What Is a Dead Muscle?

Woman performing leg stretch in garden, man standing in foreground

A doctor, personal trainer or physical therapist may use the term "dead muscle." It's a way of describing a muscle that's been deprived of nutrients and is no longer usable, that's injured or that's simply inactive due to underuse. Understanding the context in which the term is being used can help you determine if the muscle can be reinvigorated.

Dead Tissue

Dead muscle can refer to muscle that has been deprived of oxygen and nutrients and is no longer active. In a heart attack, for example, part of the heart muscle actually dies because blood flow carrying these nutrients has been blocked.

Another case of dead muscle may occur during a bout of compartment syndrome, during which pressure within your muscles builds so much that blood flow decreases. When blood flow is lost, oxygen and nutrients can't reach the tissue and it could die. Compartment syndrome affects the groupings -- or compartments -- of muscle, nerves and blood vessels in the arms or the legs. Compartment syndrome can be acute, creating intense pain and possible numbness or paralysis, and may follow a fracture, severe bruising, crushing injuries or steroid use.

Chronic compartment syndrome occurs with exercise and is characterized by numbness, muscle bulging and compromised foot movement. While acute compartment syndrome requires immediate medical attention, chronic compartment syndrome usually resolves when you stop the exercise and doesn't result in dead muscle tissue.

Dead Leg

Dead leg occurs mainly in contact sports, such as football or rugby. It refers to an injury that involves heavy impact to the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh. The muscle is crushed against the bone, which causes tearing. The injury results in immediate pain and may limit range of motion temporarily. Dead leg is a serious bruise or contusion that is graded on a scale of 1 to 3 -- with grade one being less severe than grade 3. Grade 3 contusions can compromise walking and other movement and have serious complications.


A syndrome known as "dead butt" refers to inflammation of the tendons in the gluteus medius, one of the three major gluteal muscles. It usually arises when your glutes don't fire properly. For example, if you're at a desk all day and jump immediately into a hard workout without warming up or do a repetitive activity like running without cross training. When the hip flexors, muscles at the front of the hips, are too tight and activated, the buttock muscles have trouble turning "on" and doing the work they are supposed to do in powering your body. As a result, you end up injured or in pain as your body compensates.

Resurrecting Dead Muscle

Muscle that has truly died, such as in a heart attack, cannot be revived. Bruised or nonworking muscles can be helped.

For dead leg, ice, rest and compression are immediate ways to mitigate pain. Seek medical assistance if the bruise is severe -- such as in cases in which walking is difficult or impossible and swelling accompanies the bruise.

If your glute muscles are dead -- meaning they don't fire and it's causing you injury -- stretching and strength training can help reawaken them. You may need to consult a physical therapist or personal trainer to be diagnosed. Regularly add moves such as hip extensions, squats and bridges to your exercise routine. Massage can also help stimulate these muscles by increasing blood flow to the area.