9 Ways a Physical Therapist Can Help SMA Patients

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by Wendy Henderson |

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Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disease that causes gradual muscle wastage. Patients with SMA will have professionals from various health services as part of their healthcare team, including physical therapists.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapists will provide an essential service that focuses on therapeutic exercises, strengthening exercises and improving development skills.

Therapeutic exercises
Therapeutic exercises help children maintain and improve their mobility. These exercises can slow down the progression of contractures (loss of joint movement) and respiratory failure. These will be tailored to the child’s needs, depending on the severity of their SMA.

MORE: Eight tips for keeping babies with SMA comfortable

Strengthening Exercises
The goal of strengthening exercises is to help slow down the deterioration of muscle strength and prolong independent movement. The physical therapist will work with the child to design a range of exercises that will help keep the child  moving and as active for as long as possible. The exercises can also be performed with the help of the parents or caregivers and will often incorporate games to make it fun for everyone.

MORE: Seven ways physical therapy and rehabilitation can help SMA patients

Improve Development Skills
The physical therapist will work with the child to come up with strategies to improve development skills. This may include exercises to help maintain head and trunk control, aid rolling and crawling, encourage infants to pull up into a standing position, learn how to maintain upper body control through sitting up, and learn how to stand and walk.

MORE: Five ways Cure SMA offers help to newly diagnosed SMA families

Aquatic Therapy
Aquatic therapy (or water therapy) refers to a range of exercises that are done in a swimming pool. This allows the child to go through a range of motions in the pool without overworking the muscles.

MORE: Five frequently asked questions about SMA

Standing Programs
For children with SMA who cannot walk, standing programs offer a chance to strengthen bones and leg muscles and reduce the risk of contractures.

MORE: Exoskeleton allows children with spinal muscular atrophy to walk

Managing Respiratory Problems
Physical therapists will educate parents and caregivers on the best ways to manage the child’s respiratory issues. This may include chest drainage, techniques for coughing and breathing, and chest physical therapy.

MORE: SMA breathing interventions that can help lung development

The physical therapists will work alongside speech and language therapists to devise the best practices for feeding the child.

MORE: Explaining the use of elemental diets for infants with type 1 SMA

Management of Scoliosis
For wheelchair-bound children with SMA, physical therapists can offer exercises to help reduce scoliosis and other skeletal deformities through specially designed exercise programs and body positioning. They will also be able to provide pre- or post-operation help if the child needs to have corrective surgery.

MORE: Seven areas of support care for SMA

Assistive Devices
Physical therapists can also help parents and caregivers select the appropriate assistive devices for their child.

MORE: Find out how a cough assist machine works

SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.