What is muscle fibrosis?

Muscle fibrosis is the excessive formation of fibrous bands of scar tissue between muscle fibers. Although fibrosis can develop in any organ, the only two known types of muscle fibrosis are skeletal muscle fibrosis and cardiac muscle fibrosis. The abnormal development of muscle fibrosis can cause muscle weakness, fatigue, and an inability to perform simple daily activities.

When fibrous connective tissue forms in moderate amounts, it is a normal part of the muscle's healing process. Fibrous scar tissue develops after muscle has been damaged to fill open spaces in the injured muscle, providing more surface area for regenerating muscle fibers to attach to. The connective tissue cells that comprise the scar tissue are unable to contract and relax to allow movement. Once the overproduction of fibrous scar tissue begins, the muscle progressively weakens.

Cardiac fibrosis occurs when abnormal amounts of fibrous scar tissue form within the heart muscle. Scar tissue overgrowth can occur after a heart attack or occur as heart disease progresses, and the heart muscle stiffens and cannot pump blood efficiently. Many people commonly experience chest pain and fatigue after cardiac fibrosis begins.

Skeletal muscle fibrosis can be a symptom of a muscle disorder. Some people with Duchenne or Becker muscular dystrophy develop large amounts of fibrous tissue as healthy muscle tissue breaks down. Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a disabling condition that causes the formation of large amounts of muscle fibrosis after nerve denervation or separation and skeletal muscle atrophy.

The diagnosis of skeletal muscle fibrosis can be made after administering a series of tests. A biopsy of muscle tissue can be examined for the presence of fibrous tissue within the muscle. Physical assessment of functional muscle strength may indicate abnormal weakness common after muscle fibrosis formation. Other factors that may indicate fibrosis in the muscle are poor posture and reduced coordination when walking or performing daily activities.

The pain and limited mobility caused by muscle fibrosis can be treated using a combination of methods. Physical therapy may be recommended to stretch the muscle affected by fibrosis, which can increase strength and promote easier movement of the muscle. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and the application of ice packs may be recommended to relieve pain and muscle stiffness.

Surgery may be necessary to remove the fibrous bands of skeletal muscle scar tissue. The removal of fibrosis can allow healthy muscle fibers to develop. The procedure may include a proximal resection of the muscle or surgical release of the fibrous band. After surgery, the muscle will be immobilized for several weeks to allow optimal muscle fiber regeneration.

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