As the popularity of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” is taking social media by storm, I thought I would take this opportunity to raise awareness for what ALS is and how physical therapy can make a difference for those who have been diagnosed with this disease. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It is a progressive disease that attacks motor neurons located in the brain and spinal cord. This degeneration can lead to impairments including, but not limited to, muscle weakness, difficulty with balance and walking, trouble swallowing and speaking, and eventually difficulty breathing. While the majority of cases develop for unknown reasons, 5-10% of cases have a hereditary component that has been identified. Typically affecting men between the ages of 40 and 70 at a higher rate, cases of ALS have been diagnosed as early as in the teens and early 20s. With the latest research and medical interventions, life expectancies are continuing to improve after diagnosis; however, the current life expectancy post-diagnosis ranges on average from 2-5 years.
While there is no cure for ALS, physical therapy treatments can have a great impact on maintaining patient independence and quality of life for as long as possible. These interventions include preventing the progression of impairments during the early stages of the disease, and modifying daily tasks to optimize function and independence throughout the disease course. Preventative measures can include maintaining joint flexibility, range of motion, stretching and strengthening of muscles, as well as balance and gait training. In terms of activity modification, physical therapists can play a main role in educating patients and family members on energy conservation techniques, advising for adaptive equipment, modifying work and home environments, and providing pulmonary care and airway clearance during the later stages of the disease. Although some of these interventions may seem small, they can make a huge difference in terms of patients and their families maintaining independence for as long as possible.
So as we raise our ice buckets in support of those individuals and families affected by this devastating disease and to raise money for future research, I encourage you to take the opportunity to learn more about this disease and the daily challenges those affected endure. For more information about ALS, individuals living with ALS, or to make a donation, please visit The ALS Association’s website at www.alsa.org.
Megan E. Sette, DPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy, North Central Clinic
Promotion Physical Therapy
(210) 479-3334 Office
(210) 479-3338 Fax
- O’Sullivan, S., & Schmitz, T. (2007). Physical Rehabilitation. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.
- The ALS Association (2010). About ALS Retrieved from www.alsa.org