ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or “Lou Gehrig’s disease” – is a neurodegenerative progressive disease that negatively affects both the motor neurons that are located within the brain and in the spinal cord. These neurons are special nerve cells that are responsible for controlling the muscles throughout the body. As time progresses, the muscles weaken. While the condition is not curable, a physical therapist may assist an ALS patient in many ways.

wheelchair future path

What Happens to ALS Patients?

When an individual suffers from ALS the motor neurons responsible for muscle movements throughout the body eventually start to die.

This results in the loss of the brain’s ability to make and control the movements of the muscles. Voluntary muscle capabilities are lost. Patients may – eventually – be unable to move, speak, eat, and even breathe.

Who is Diagnosed with ALS?

It has been established that anyone is capable of developing ALS. It is becoming a common illness as one person is diagnosed with the condition every hour and a half. Most patients are between 40 and 70, but anyone of any age may develop the disease. Until later ages, more men are diagnosed than women.

Additionally, it is common for veterans of the military to develop the disease. 90% of cases are those that do not have a genetic cause or a known family member with the problem. 10% of cases result as a result of an inherited gene that is mutated.

What are the Most Common Symptoms of ALS?

The symptoms that are experienced by ALS patients vary from one person to another. In the beginning, the most common symptom is weakness in the muscles. This spreads and worsens over time. Other symptoms may include any or all of the following:

  • Problems Walking
  • Issues with Daily Activities
  • Tripping
  • Falling
  • Weakness in the Legs, Ankles, and Feet
  • Weakness in Hands
  • Problems Swallowing
  • Slurred Speech
  • Muscle Cramps and Weakness in the Tongue, Shoulders, and Arms
  • Cognitive Changes
  • Behavioral Changes
  • Crying, Yawning, and/or Laughing in an Untimely Manner
  • Foot Drop
  • Coordination Problems
  • Muscle Stiffness
  • Neck Weakness
  • Back Weakness
  • Impairments in Breathing

In most instances, patients with ALS do not suffer from pain. This is not to say that it does not happen at all. It could occur with some patients. Additionally, this condition usually does not impact the senses of smell, taste, hearing, and the process of touching and feeling.

How Does a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapists are specifically trained to evaluate and treat issues that are related to the movements of the body and the general functionality of the body.

When working with ALS patients, physical therapists assist by preparing them for the changes that will occur over the course of the disease. Patients are taught how to navigate the changes that will happen to them as they progress in their illness.

In most instances, physical therapists help individuals rebuild muscle. This is not the case with ALS patients.

With ALS patients, the focus is placed on maintaining the fitness of the body, improving flexibility, and the steps to ensuring mobility in a safe manner. The goal is to ensure that the ALS patient is capable of moving and maneuvering as safely as possible and maintaining their level of independence for as long as possible.

walking rehab

Services Rendered by Physical Therapists

There are many different services that are rendered to ALS patients by physical therapists. These include – but are not limited to – the following:

  1. Exercises – The physical therapist will educate the ALS patient on exercises that may be safely performed that will help keep the muscles throughout the body flexible and as strong as possible. Typically, an individualized care plan is established that includes stretching exercises, breathing exercises, and those that optimize range of motion as the illness progresses.
  2. Balance and Fall Prevention Strategies – When working with an ALS patient, a physical therapist will focus on balance and fall prevention strategies. During the course of this focus, the patient may be advised on the usage of mobility devices – such as canes and walkers. As the patient advances in their illness, these devices may be prescribed to ensure safety.
  3. Evaluations for Braces – There are many types of braces that may be prescribed to ALS patients to help in positioning and to decrease any degree of discomfort that is experienced. Examples include ankle braces when a foot drop is experienced or a neck brace to optimize posture for easy breathing.
  4. Powered Wheelchairs – The walking ability will decline in ALS patients. As a result, a physical therapist will often recommend the use of a powered wheelchair. The therapist will make a determination on what features are necessary and will help the patient learn how to utilize the wheelchair when the time comes for it to be prescribed to improve positioning and ensure safe mobility.
  5. Pain Management – While it is true that pain is not a common issue among ALS patients, there are many patients who DO experience some degree of pain. A physical therapist will help by educating the patient on stretching exercises, performing massage, making recommendations on positioning, and relieving stress on the pressure points throughout the body.
  6. Home Evaluations – A physical therapist who works with ALS patients may offer a home evaluation. These are done to make recommendations on any modifications that may need to be made for the home and those pertaining to general safety. Additionally, equipment may be recommended in the home to help the patient in performing activities of daily living. As recommendations come into effect in the home, the physical therapist may help the patient in using those modifications.
  7. Caregiver Services – When a physical therapist works with an ALS patient, it is common for that patient to have a person designated as a “caregiver” assisting them. If this is the case, the physical therapist will educate and provide support about ALS and with the patient who has ALS. The physical therapist may teach a caregiver how to properly move the patient, help in bathing, and even prescribe mechanical lifts and specially designed gait belts that may be used.

How to Sign up for Physical Therapy

If you are an ALS patient, it is likely that your doctor or your neurologist will make a referral to a physical therapist. In these instances, it is as easy as waiting on contact from the therapist’s office for your first appointment.

You do not have to wait on a referral, though.

If you want to engage in physical therapy, you may make an appointment yourself. In most instances, your insurance will cover the sessions, the treatments, and any items that the therapist wants to prescribe – such as mobility devices and equipment that may be used in the home.

Contact Us Today

If you want to pursue physical therapy on your own, contact us here at Back to Motion Physical Therapy today. A referral is not required. We specialize in the newest and most innovative approaches and treatments that are currently available. We are committed to providing the best care. While it is impossible for us to cure your ALS, we can help in managing it and walking through all the stages of the illness with you.

Our technique involves utilizing a multi-system evaluation. This involves the mobilization of the joints, correcting muscle imbalances, optimizing range of motion and flexibility, improving coordination, soft tissue care, and neuropathodynamics. We focus on whole body care. Our therapists are empathetic and sensitive to the needs of our patients. To learn more, contact us now at: 303-832-5577

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