Many muscular dystrophy patients can benefit from physical therapy. As with other treatments, the exercises, frequency of therapy, and targeted muscles will vary depending on the progression of the disease. As the muscles become progressively weaker and more atrophied, the mobility of an individual's joints can be affected. Joints move because they are attached to tendons, muscles, and ligaments. The muscle weakness can make an affected individual too weak to move their joints. Some patients have limbs that become drawn inward and paralyzed.
One of the most common types of physical therapy is range-of-motion exercises, which help improve joint mobility and keep the joints flexible. Spending too long without moving a joint can increase its likelihood of paralysis. A physical therapist can also help with painful contractures that occur as a result of the disease. If the muscular dystrophy patient needs to use mobility aids, a physical therapist or occupational therapist will often be the one to teach them how to use them. Physical therapists will generally work alongside the patient's other healthcare providers to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding treatment.
One thing that might help patients with muscular dystrophy is wearing braces. Braces are a type of assistive device, but they're different from typical mobility aids. Unlike other mobility aids, braces confer health benefits including a slowed progression of the disease. The goal of the braces is to keep the tendons and muscles flexible and stretched, rather than letting them curl inward and lose their range of movement.
At the same time, the braces support the muscles that have become weakened, which can improve muscle function and overall mobility. When wearing braces, an individual may find they're able to walk or stand for longer than they could unassisted. The braces might be paired with a cane or walker. Many different kinds of braces can help with different kinds of muscular dystrophy. Some are worn during the day, while others are worn while the patient sleeps, and some braces can even be worn around the clock. In addition to leg braces, arm braces are also available.
Regular Low-Impact Exercise
Exercise is almost always necessary to good physical health, the exception being when medical conditions cause exercise intolerance. In muscular dystrophy patients, exercise is imperative to maintaining muscle mass and function, though it's important to do the right kinds of exercise. High-impact exercises like running and jumping jacks can be exhausting and damaging to the body. Thus, many health professionals recommend regular low-impact exercise for patients with muscular dystrophy.
Swimming and walking cause little stress to the joints, but they can help keep muscles strong and mobile. Certain muscle strengthening exercises may also be helpful. Patients, however, should talk to their doctor before making any changes to their exercise routine. The wrong type of exercise can cause more damage than if the individual in question never exercised at all. If a certain exercise feels extremely painful or wrong, it's best to stop it and talk to a doctor.