ALS physical therapy can help patients learn to adjust and cope up with their physical disabilities. With the use of this therapy, patients gain chances of maximizing what they can do at present. They can even go to a remedial massage therapist. These therapists know how to locate the source of muscle pain and treat it effectively. However, how does physical therapy address ALS? That we will find out as we go along this article. Before we get to that part, let us first know a few details about ALS or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Come and join me!
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Generally speaking, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive disease affecting neuromuscular function. With the disease ALS, the brain’s motor neurons or nerve cells and the spinal cord degenerate. Meanwhile, it also has the other name “Lou Gehrig’s disease”.
Living with ALS, the motor nerve cells die. In effect, these neurons cannot send signals to the muscles, resulting in atrophy. Atrophy involves the reduction in the size of cells, organs, or tissue. Unfortunately, there is no cure for ALS right now. However, treatments are still available to manage the symptoms.
One of these treatments that can help improve the patient’s quality of life is physical therapy or physiotherapy. Additionally, it helps slow down the progression of ALS. ALS is also called classical motor neuron disease. It is a rare condition affecting brain and nerve functions. Furthermore, the patient will be living with it for so many years.
Symptoms of ALS
Patients with ALS may experience the following symptoms.
- Muscle weakness, including hands, arms, or legs
- Arm and leg impairment
- Muscle twitching and cramping
- Muscle weakness affecting speech, swallowing, or breathing
- Weight loss
- Thick speech and voice projection difficulty
These symptoms may not show earlier. The diagnosis of ALS may even take about nine to 12 months. For this reason, it would be best to get a proper evaluation promptly. Otherwise, it would be challenging to manage the disease progression.
Classification of ALS
Physicians often use the following classifications for ALS.
- Classical: Involves the deterioration of upper and lower motor neurons.
- Primary Lateral Sclerosis: The upper motor nerve cells deteriorate, while the lower motor neuron remains intact within two years.
- Progressive Bulbar Palsy (PBP): Involves lower motor neurons deterioration, affecting speech and eating.
- Progressive Muscular Atrophy (PMA): The lower motor nerve cells deteriorate.
- Familial ALS: The disease affects more than one family member.
Generally speaking, it would be best to address the disease during its early stages. In this case, let me share the various treatment options to help patients get ahead of the disease. Given this point, how can ALS physical therapy improve a patient’s life?
Treatment Options for People with ALS
The following are the treatment options applicable to ALS patients.
1 Physical Therapy
People with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can still get a grip on their condition through physical therapy. A physical therapist is one of the members who can help people with ALS. As this disease progresses, the patient’s range of motion becomes limited.
For this reason, physical therapists need to evaluate the patient’s joint range of motion, strength, and general mobility skills. Physical therapy helps ALS patients to maintain their mobility and function. In this option, physical therapists recommend equipment such as braces or walking devices.
2 Assistive Devices
These assistive devices cover various functions for people living with ALS. These tools can help the patients in their daily activities, including dressing, eating, toileting, and bathing. Meanwhile, a few examples of the apparatus for these activities are splints, corrective braces, grab bars, and many more.
Patients with this disease will also need to acquire speech therapy. Meanwhile, there are also assistive devices to help patients with ALS to communicate. They can even ask their speech therapist if they favor using an electronic communication aid.
3 Exercise program
Physical therapists often include exercise programs in their ALS treatment to patients. However, they need to do this with moderation. The following are the sample of activities the physical therapist can apply with the patient.
- Aerobic exercise
- Stretching exercises
- Range of motion exercises (ROM)
On the other hand, strengthening exercises do not apply. Using weights cannot help gain muscle strength for those already weakened by ALS. Exercise in ALS is essential to maintain their remaining independent function.
This treatment applies to relieve the patient’s painful muscle cramps, excessive saliva production, and other symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration has two approved drugs for ALS, Riluzole (Rilutek) and Edaravone (Radicava).
5 Other Therapies
Aside from physical therapy and speech therapy, the following are also helpful to improve ALS patients’ quality of life.
- Breathing care: Breathing muscles can also weaken. For this reason, doctors will let you use devices to assist patients with their breathing at night, such as non-invasive ventilation.
- Occupational therapy: This therapy involves finding ways to help maintain the patient’s independence. It even includes home modification to allow accessibility.
- Nutritional support: It is essential to maintain the patient’s health in good condition. The team and the family members should feed them with foods that are easy to swallow. It is necessary to ensure that the patient’s nutritional needs remain intact.
- Psychological and social support: This progressive disease will indeed become challenging. For this reason, psychologists, social workers, and other support groups may help.
Quality of Life for People Living with ALS
Pain and weakness of muscles are a few of the signs associated with this health problem. Rehabilitation is necessary to manage the disease. When there is an integration of rehabilitation with the overall treatment for ALS patients, they could gain the following benefits.
- Coping and management of the disease
- Slowing down symptoms
- Prevention of falls
- Reduction of the risks of injuries
- Pain reduction
- Maintain functionality
- Prolongs life
The disease does not affect the patients only, but also their families. It is indeed challenging to face, including financial aspects. However, what’s necessary now is to remain hopeful. Moreover, they need to focus on health care and energy conservation.
A physical therapist is one of the vital members of the team battling ALS. Despite no cure as of now, clinical trials are ongoing to address the condition. We need to use what we have and do what we can do to keep the muscles function. Moreover, our support system is indeed an advantage.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Cleveland.org, Accessed July 16, 2021, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16729-amyotrophic-lateral-sclerosis-als
Physical Therapy and ALS: How the Practice Helps to Improve Quality of Life, Als.org, October 1, 2020, https://www.als.org/blog/physical-therapy-and-als-how-practice-helps-improve-quality-life