Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Neuromuscular system and diseases

6-minute read

Key facts

  • The neuromuscular system connects muscles and nerves, which control body movements and functions.
  • Nerves called motor neurons send messages from the brain to muscles, making them contract and move.
  • Neuromuscular disease includes nerve and muscle problems, causing weakness and pain.
  • Neuromuscular diseases can cause tiredness, muscle weakness, cramps and pain, and in severe cases trouble breathing and swallowing.
  • There is no current cure for many neuromuscular disorders — treatments are used to help improve quality of life.

What is the neuromuscular system?

The neuromuscular system includes all the muscles in the body and the nerves connecting them.

Every movement the body makes, needs communication between the brain and the muscles. The nervous system links thoughts and actions by sending messages (as electrical impulses) from the brain to other parts of the body.

Nerves and muscles work together in the neuromuscular system to make your body move as you want it to, and manage important functions such as breathing.

How does the neuromuscular system work?

Nerves are cells called neurons. Neurons carry messages to and from the brain through the spinal cord to muscles in your body.

Outgoing messages travel from the brain along the motor pathways to activate the muscles of the body. The neurons that make up these pathways are called motor neurons.

Incoming messages are sent from the senses (your eyes, and nose, for example) back to the spinal cord and brain come along the sensory pathways. These are called sensory neurons.

Each motor neuron ending sits very close to a muscle fibre. Where they sit together is called a neuromuscular junction. The motor neurons release a chemical, which is picked up by the muscle fibre. This signals the muscle fibre to contract, which makes the muscles move.

Illustration showing a boy catching a ball, after the messages were carried from the brain to the muscles.
Neurons carry messages from the brain via the spinal cord. These messages are carried to muscles, which tell the muscle fibre to contract, which makes the muscles move.

What diseases involve the neuromuscular system?

Many different diseases affect the neuromuscular system, and together they are known as neuromuscular diseases.

Some examples of neuromuscular diseases are:

What are the symptoms of neuromuscular disease?

If you have a neuromuscular disease, your symptoms will vary depending on what nerves and muscles are affected and what type disease you have. You may have problems with tiredness, weakness, muscle pain, muscle wasting and spasms.

In some neuromuscular diseases, the nerves are damaged, and do not carry messages from the brain as they should. In others, the muscles are damaged, and they either cannot receive messages from motor neurons, or they cannot respond as they should.

In severe cases, neuromuscular diseases can lead to difficulties in swallowing, speaking and breathing.

Treatments usually try to reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with neuromuscular diseases. In many cases there is no cure.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are concerned or notice any new muscle weakness, spasms, twitching or pain, you should speak with your doctor. If your child has these symptoms, speak with their GP, paediatrician or early child health nurse.

How can I prevent neuromuscular problems?

There are many of genetic changes that can cause neuromuscular disorders and unfortunately, there is no cure or way to prevent neuromuscular disorders. Treatments may be available to help reduce your symptoms. If you are concerned or experience any unusual symptoms speak with your doctor.

Resources and support

Read more on neuromuscular disorders here:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Motor neurone disease -

Motor neurone disease (MND) is a progressive neurological disorder which usually strikes people in middle and later life.

Read more on myDr website

Muscular Dystrophy - Brain Foundation

Description Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of genetic (inherited) conditions that cause progressive deterioration of the body’s muscles, with increasing weakness and disability

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Peripheral neuropathy | Cancer Council

Peripheral neuropathy is a possible side effect of cancer treatment. Find out what it is, what the symptoms are and how it can be managed here

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

Peripheral Neuropathy - Brain Disorders A-Z - Brain Foundation

Peripheral neuropathy is a common type of nerve damage that may be caused by underlying conditions. It is often associated with diabetes.

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Muscular dystrophy -

Muscular dystrophy describes a group of inherited diseases in which the muscles that control movement become progressively weaker and waste away, causing symptoms such as difficulty walking.

Read more on myDr website

Neuromuscular disorders - Better Health Channel

The combination of the nervous system and muscles is known as the neuromuscular system.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) - Better Health Channel

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is the most common inherited disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Motor Neurone Disease - Brain Foundation

(also Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)   Description Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is the name given to a group of diseases in which the nerve cells (neurons) that control the muscles degenerate and die

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Motor neurone disease (MND) - Better Health Channel

Motor neurone disease (MND) is also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Lou Gehrig's disease. MND is a rapidly progressing, neurological disease. Motor neurones are nerve cells that control the voluntary muscles of the trunk and limbs, and affect speech, swallowing and breathing. Damage to these nerves causes muscle weakness and wasting. People with MND become increasingly disabled, and may lose speech, have difficulty swallowing and eventually die from respiratory (breathing) failure.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a disorder of the hand caused by pressure on the median nerve as it runs through the wrist.

Read more on WA Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.