ALS causes muscle weakness and difficulty with mobility, flexibility, and balance. Physical therapy may help you maintain these skills and perform tasks independently for as long as possible.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurological condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS worsens over time. As symptoms progress, people with ALS can experience muscle pain and weakness that cause difficulties with everyday activities.
Physical therapy may help strengthen muscles and provide relief for a while.
Physical therapists can help people with ALS in multiple ways. If you have ALS, the goal of physical therapy is typically to ensure that you are able to perform your daily activities independently for as long as possible.
Physical therapy approaches this goal with treatments that reduce pain while helping you maintain mobility, balance, and flexibility.
As ALS progresses, physical therapists can recommend mobility aides such as canes, walkers, and wheelchairs.
A physical therapy treatment program for ALS will include several elements. A physical therapist will create a plan specific to each person and to their condition.
A typical program will include:
- Balance and fall prevention strategies: A physical therapist can teach you ways to maintain balance and avoid falls. They teach you techniques and ways to use assistive devices to stay safe.
- Exercise: A physical therapy program for ALS often focuses on stretching and strengthening exercises. These can help you maintain flexibility and balance.
- Evaluation for braces: Braces are prescribed to help people with ALS achieve comfortable body positioning.
- Recommendations for assistive and mobility aids: A physical therapist can recommend the most appropriate canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and other aids for each person with ALS.
- Home evaluation: Sometimes, physical therapists can visit your home to assess fall risk and other safety concerns. They can then make recommendations for modifications and aids.
- Caregiver education: At a physical therapy session, caregivers of someone with ALS can learn how to help them move, bathe, dress, and assist with other everyday needs.
There’s no set physical therapy treatment window for ALS. Since ALS is progressive, it’s common to need physical therapy more than once.
For instance, someone might need physical therapy when they first receive a diagnosis to help with early symptoms. Then, they might have physical therapy again later to help them adapt to changes in their condition.
ALS has multiple treatment options. None of these treatments will cure the condition, but they may slow its progression and improve quality of life.
Treatment options include:
- ALS medications: Certain medications can reduce damage to motor neurons, which can slow down decline in some people with ALS. This includes medications such as Riluzole, Edaravone, Relyvrio, and Qalsody.
- Symptom management medications: Additional medications can help manage symptoms of ALS. The exact medications will depend on symptoms and their severity.
- Speech therapy: Speech therapy can help people with ALS communicate clearly with their voices or with assistive tools.
- Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy can help people with ALS maintain their ability to independently perform tasks such as daily grooming and meal preparation for as long as possible.
- Nutrition support: Dietitians and other professionals help plan meals and select appropriate foods. Once ALS progresses, a feeding tube is often needed.
- Supplemental oxygen: People with ALS can begin to experience shortness of breath as their condition progresses. Once this happens, supplemental oxygen can help.
There’s no cure for ALS. The condition is progressive and degenerative. This means it will eventually cause disability and is always fatal.
However, newer ALS treatments are helping slow the progression of the condition and prolong life, while managing symptoms, for longer than before.
What is the best exercise for ALS patients?
There isn’t a single best exercise for people with ALS. It depends on a variety of factors such as condition progression and symptoms. If you have ALS, a physical therapist can help find the best exercises for you.
What are the goals of physical therapy for ALS?
The goal of physical therapy for ALS is to maintain your independence in performing your daily tasks for as long as possible. Physical therapy sessions are focused on helping with skills such as flexibility, balance, and mobility.
Can you rebuild muscle with ALS?
You cannot rebuild muscle tissue, but physical therapy may help you learn the most effective ways to use the muscle strength you have.
ALS is a progressive condition that causes muscle weakness and difficulties with balance and mobility. Physical therapy can help people with ALS maintain their balance, flexibility, and mobility through exercises and the use of techniques and assistive devices.
As ALS progresses, a physical therapist can also help with evaluations for braces, walkers, wheelchairs, and other assistive equipment. There’s no cure for ALS, but treatments such as physical therapy can improve quality of life.