Mike Krukow's Muscle Disease Explained

In 2014, San Francisco Giants broadcaster and former MLB player Mike Krukow announced that he had been quietly dealing with a degenerative muscle disease called inclusion body myositis, or IBM, for years. Krukow had previously been in denial about his diagnosis, and believed that if he ignored his symptoms, they would go away.

By coming forward and being open about his muscle disease, he's shined a light on how athletes, particularly men, deal with injuries and adverse medical diagnoses. It's common for men who are diagnosed with any kind of health problem to think they can power through the symptoms and not let it affect their lives, if they are even diagnosed at all. But Mike Krukow is showing everyone that there isn't any shame in admitting you have a disease that affects your health, and he's showing everyone that you can still do your job and live your life at the same time.

What is inclusion body myositis?

Inclusion body myositis, or IBM, is a degenerative muscle disease that causes inflammation and the gradual weakening of muscles over time. The muscle weakening that is caused by IBM is not painful in itself, but as you might imagine, if your muscles aren't able to hold you up, you could become injured in other ways. This was the case with Mike Krukow, who fell coming off a bus while traveling with the Giants and tore his rotator cuff (via SFGate). 

IBM can often sneak up on people several years before they start experiencing noticeable symptoms, because the muscle decline is so gradual. IBM can also be misdiagnosed as polymyositis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (via Cleveland Clinic). Polymyositis and ALS can also cause muscle weakness and inflammation, but the treatment for these two degenerative diseases is different than the treatment for IBM, so getting the correct diagnosis makes a difference. Men over 50 are the most likely to be diagnosed with IBM (via The Myositis Association).

What are the symptoms of inclusion body myositis?

The muscle areas that are most commonly affected by IBM are the muscles in the thighs, fingers, wrists, shoulders, neck, back, and arms (via The Myositis Association). Because the muscles in the legs are often the first to experience weakness, it's easy to see why Mike Krukow feels so unsteady on his feet and has to wear leg braces to avoid having another catastrophic fall (SFGate). 

Other symptoms that are caused by muscle degeneration are frequent falls, difficulty climbing stairs, difficulty writing, difficulty standing up from a chair, and difficulty swallowing (via The Myositis Association). Of those symptoms, you're more likely to notice falling, weakness in your grip, and difficulty standing up from a seated position. These symptoms are easy to brush off as you get older, but could signal that there is a more serious muscle disease responsible. That's why it's so important to pay attention to your body and to talk to your doctor if you start to notice that you have difficulty doing things that used to be part of your daily routine.

How do you treat inclusion body myositis?

Unfortunately, because there is so much debate and uncertainty about what causes inclusion body myositis, there is no single treatment that is effective in helping combat the muscle degeneration that takes place when someone is diagnosed with IBM (via Cleveland Clinic). It's also difficult to diagnose because the symptoms associated with IBM are not unique to that particular muscle disease. In order to be more certain, doctors usually have to perform a muscle biopsy to determine if a patient has IBM or not (via Johns Hopkins). 

Clinical trials studying possible treatments for IBM are still ongoing, so we can remain hopeful that in the future there will be some form of effective treatment identified to slow or stop the muscle degeneration that is associated with IBM. In the meantime, different forms of therapy can help maintain the quality of life of people diagnosed with IBM (via Johns Hopkins). Physical therapy can help keep muscles from becoming completely atrophied, so people can continue living normally as long as possible. Occupational therapy can also help reduce the risk of falling at home.

Can you do anything to prevent inclusion body myositis?

Experts and health officials are still unsure about what causes inclusion body myositis in older adults. IBM actually presents in two different forms, sporadic inclusion body myositis and hereditary inclusion body myopathy (via Johns Hopkins). As you might imagine, hereditary inclusion body myopathy has a genetic component as therefore can be passed down to children. This version of IBM often presents itself much sooner than middle age, sometimes as early as someone's mid-20s. 

However, the specific condition that Mike Krukow was diagnosed with is the former of the two, sporadic inclusion body myositis, which currently has no known causes. Scientists and doctors studying IBM think that there may be an autoimmune component to the disease, which causes the body's cells to attack themselves, but other factors can contribute (via Johns Hopkins). If studies do confirm that there truly is an autoimmune factor to IBM, that may change the possible course of treatment from focusing on the inflammation of the muscles.

Is inclusion body myositis life-threatening?

Unlike patients diagnosed with ALS, where the life expectancy is usually no longer than five years, IBM is not life-threatening. Mike Krukow likes to say that IBM is "life-altering," not life-threatening (via SFGate). Like Krukow, many people with IBM will have to use some kind of aid to get around, like canes, walkers, or even scooters as the muscle degeneration progresses. This is good news, since there is no known cause or treatment for IBM. 

Although inclusion body myositis isn't directly life-threatening, it's still important to diagnose and do your best to treat it because of some of the direct consequences of the disease. People who lose muscle strength in their legs can risk falling, and depending on the severity of the fall, there may be significant injuries (via Johns Hopkins). IBM can also affect the muscles in your throat and can cause difficulty swallowing, which may lead to choking. However, a lot of people like Mike Krukow are still leading full lives, including working full-time, with IBM, so it is possible to alter your life to allow you to do all of the things you want to while having inclusion body myositis.