Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurological disease that typically begins in the hands, feet and extremities, then progresses centrally. People may first discover that they have difficulty with walking or poor balance. In addition, people may notice that they have weakness in their hands or legs, along with occasional muscle cramps.
As the disease progresses, it affects walking, use of the arms, speaking, swallowing and breathing muscles. While there is no cure for ALS, maintaining independence and function as long as possible is the goal of the rehabilitation team. Safely walking and adaptation to assistive devices is critical to prevent secondary complications such as fractures from falls.
How therapy helps
Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy typically coordinate as a team for people with ALS, depending on their severity of symptoms and progression of the disease. Physical therapy focuses on improving and maintaining range of motion, strength, stamina, walking and balance. In addition, our physical therapists will focus on making recommendations for adaptive equipment such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, braces and other devices. The goal of physical therapy is to maintain safety while walking and independence for as long as possible.
Occupational therapists focus on helping ALS patients with their upper extremity use, working on strength, stamina, range of motion and function. Recommendations concerning adaptive equipment for grasping, reaching and writing are part of care. In addition, training and adaptation to daily living activities, such as dressing, eating, cooking and working are modified as needed.
Speech therapists focus on the muscles of the throat, mouth, and tongue as well as breathing. All this can help maintain safety while eating/drinking and improve the ability to communicate.
Although ALS is a progressive disease, the use of physical, occupational and speech therapy can make a big difference in your quality of life, maintaining independence and function for as long as possible.