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Physical therapy for ALS

What is ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease and leading cause of disability in the United States. ALS attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing motor neurons to atrophy, destroying the brain’s ability to initiate and control muscle movement.

ALS is sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, after the baseball player who was diagnosed with the disease at age 36. Individuals suffering from ALS will eventually lose their ability to walk, eat, drink, or speak. There is no cure for ALS, but medication and physical therapy can help to prolong the patient’s lifespan and improve their quality of life.

Source: The ALS Association

ALS symptoms

Because ALS is a progressive disease with a gradual onset, the symptoms can be difficult to identify in the early stages. Some patients may experience weakness or shakiness at first; they may experience difficulty when writing or tying their shoelaces. Others may have difficulty speaking or notice a change in their voice.

Over time, patients experience more serious muscle weakness and paralysis, though the rate and pattern of progression will vary from person to person. Common early symptoms include muscle fatigue, cramping, slurred speech, increased clumsiness, or unexplainable bouts of laughing or crying (emotional lability).

As the disease progresses, the breathing muscles will be affected, and patients will eventually require permanent breathing support. The mean survival time for patients living with ALS is 3 to 5 years, though many people can live with the disease for 10 years or longer.

The most common symptoms of ALS include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Paralysis
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing

Source: The ALS Association

What causes ALS?

About 5 to 10 percent of ALS cases are genetic, however the vast majority are never identified. Suspected potential causes include a gene mutation, a chemical imbalance, a disorganized immune response, or protein mishandling in the nerve cells. None of these suspected causes have as yet been confirmed.

While an exact cause is unknown, there are several established risk factors for ALS. For example, men are more likely to develop the disease, as are patients between the ages of 40 and 60.

Some studies suggest that repeated head trauma or exposure to certain chemicals may increase a patient’s risk of developing ALS. Individuals who have served in the military are also at greater risk of developing the disease.

The most common causes of ALS include:

  • Genetics
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Environmental toxin exposure

Source: Mayo Clinic

Physical therapy for ALS

Physical therapy can help patients with ALS adjust to their physical disabilities and lead more fulfilling lives. Physical therapy can also help relieve pain and delay the loss of mobility. Physical therapists will focus on helping ALS patients adjust their environment and lifestyle to cope with their disabilities. PTs can recommend exercises to improve flexibility and reduce pain, and provide instruction and recommendations in the use of assistive devices.

While aerobic exercises, stretching, and range of motion exercises can all improve flexibility and increase muscle endurance, exercise that is too strenuous can actually cause a patient’s condition to worsen. A licensed physical therapist can help patients to find a balance that is both healthy and safe.

Source: Cleveland Clinic

Luna’s physical therapists treat
patients with ALS

Luna’s physical therapists have experience designing exercise and stretching routines that are safe, healthy, and comfortable for ALS patients. Our PTs are prepared to provide recommendations and training in the use of the assistive devices most commonly used by ALS patients.

Given that mobility is a common issue for those who suffer from ALS, at-home treatment is commonly sought. With Luna, patients can order physical therapy sessions right from their phone, and your therapist will come to you. At-home physical therapy has never been this convenient. It’s physical therapy, delivered.

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