Injured or ill, new study shows how to reduce muscle atrophy


Daily heat treatments prevents loss mitochondrial function

A new study found that daily heat treatments applied locally to muscle during 10 days of immobilization prevented the loss of mitochondrial function, increased heat shock protein levels, and attenuated skeletal muscle atrophy by 37% compared to sham control in a small trial in humans.

What are heat shock proteins and what are the benefits?

Whole body heat treatment (similar to a sauna) prevented muscle atrophy and increased muscle regrowth after immobilization, however, these were done in mice. This study shows a pretty similar phenomenon in humans! The prevention of muscle atrophy and muscle regrowth in mice was shown to be dependent on the robust activation of heat shock proteins. These proteins are highly conserved in humans in function, playing an extremely apparent similar molecular role. More importantly, we already knew from prior research that heat shock proteins increase by ~50% after 30 minutes in a 73 ºC.

sauna prevent atrophyThe HSP70 role in inhibition of NF-κB induced atrophy 

The results of this new study have important implications. While exercise interventions remain the most effective strategy to maintain or increase muscle mass and respiratory capacity, during periods of immobilization due to injury or for other reasons exercise can become more challenging.

heat shock proteins

Relation between the degree of exercise or disease challenge and inflammatory markers: The proposed markers may represent both the inflammatory status and muscle status of health. In this way, the figure represents the hypothesis that there is an equilibrium state of many markers in health and a disequilibrium in sedentary, disease and overtraining situations. These markers include extracellular/intracellular HSP70 ratio hypothesis and many others cytokines

Heat therapy through modalities such as a sauna or even local heating (as is the case in this study) may ultimately serve as a very useful alternative or adjunct therapy to maintain skeletal muscle metabolic function and preserve muscle mass!

Daily heat treatments, applied during 10 days of immobilization, prevent the loss of mitochondrial function and attenuate atrophy in human skeletal muscle.

Daily heat treatment maintains mitochondrial function and attenuates atrophy in human skeletal muscle subjected to immobilization

Thiago Gomes Heck, Sofia Pizzato Scomazzon, Mirna Stela Ludwig and Paulo Ivo Homem de Bittencourt Jr. (August 22nd 2012). Role of Heat Shock Proteins in Skeletal Muscle, Skeletal Muscle – From Myogenesis to Clinical Relations, Julianna Cseri, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/47815. Available from: