Physiotherapy’s Role In Treating Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a neurological disease that causes muscles to weaken and literally waste away.  The motor neurons in the spinal cord degenerate to the point that the spinal muscles gradually deteriorate.  There are several forms of this disease and, sadly, it affects young children, some as young as two months old.

Physiotherapy has been instrumental with helping children suffering from this genetic disease achieve some sort of normal quality of life.  Physiotherapy’s  role in treating Spinal Muscular Atrophy is most effective at onset of the illness and must be carried through during the course of the child’s life.  Many children with mild conditions of this defect lead lives into adulthood.  Other children die at an early age, mostly due to pneumonia.

Here are three main types of Spinal Muscular Atrophy.  Type One is Severe Infantile SMA, which is also known as Werdnig-Hoffman disease.  This is the most severe form of the disease and the child is unable to sit or roll unsupported.  The muscle weakness and atrophy eventually causes feeding problems and children with this condition generally do not live beyond the age of 18 months.  Sadly, there is nothing that can be done for children with this severe disease, even with physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy’s role in treating Type 3 Spinal Muscular Atrophy has been significant, especially over recent years.  Children who suffer from this milder condition of the disease can benefit from care from a physiotherapist.  Children with Type 3 are often diagnosed around the age of two years old.  Some children are able to walk, but with difficulty.  The inability to walk by the age of two often leads to the diagnosis.

Physiotherapy’s role in treating spinal muscular atrophy when it is Type III can be instrumental in a young person’s life, particularly when treatment begins at an early age.  Physiotherapists can help the children to move and strengthen muscles that are unaffected to prevent them from becoming deformed.  By working with parents, the physiotherapist can help the child to move more an encourage exercises such as swimming that will help strengthen and develop muscles and also give the child a much needed confidence boost.

Physiotherapy’s role in treating spinal muscular atrophy can also be utilized later at a time when walking may become so difficult due to degenerated muscles that the child must learn to walk on splints.  Although this is a heartbreaking experience for both parents and the physiotherapist, it will enable the child to get around on his own a little while longer.  By teaching the child to develop good arm muscles, the physiotherapist can enable the child to be able to walk, even using splints, for a longer period of time.

In addition to strengthening muscles, providing exercises and counseling to both child and parents, physiotherapy’s role in treating spinal muscular atrophy can extend to the time when the child does become wheel-chair bound.  A good physiotherapist can teach the child how to take care of himself by  dressing himself and using proper hygiene.  In many schools, physiotherapy to treat spinal muscular atrophy can be used to help a child enjoy some of the leisure activities enjoyed by the other children as well as learning how to write and cut as well as other school activities.  By working with the school officials, a good physiotherapist can make a child with Spinal Muscular Atrophy’s experience in school a little less traumatic.

Being a physiotherapist is a rewarding career, but can be heartbreaking at time, particularly when dealing with children with life-threatening conditions such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy.  However, physiotherapy’s role in treating spinal muscular atrophy goes more beyond simple massages and helping a child to walk and dress himself – it puts a lot of emphasis on the self esteem of the child.  A physiotherapist who wants to help children with life threatening conditions needs patience and compassion so they can make a difference in the life of a child suffering from this terrible disorder.