People with spinal muscular atrophy, also referred to as SMA disease, often have difficulties with tasks that many others take for granted, like walking, eating, getting dressed, and even breathing. This inherited disease affects some of the nerves in the spine and causes progressive muscle atrophy (wasting) and hypotonia (poor muscle tone).

SMA is typically diagnosed during infancy. In the United States, it affects about 1 in 10,000 babies. It is a leading cause of infant mortality. This article looks at the ways that physical therapy can help to improve some symptoms of the SMA disease. A skilled physical therapist can help your child function at their highest levels.

What is Spinal Muscular Atrophy?

SMA is a neuromuscular disease.  People with this disease have altered or missing Survival Motor Neuron-1 (SMN1) genes. Dysfunction in or absence of this gene makes the body less able or totally unable to produce the SMN1 protein.

Low levels of this protein cause poor muscle control. This can make it hard to walk, talk, eat, or perform other common and necessary tasks. Over time, the large motor nerve cells may die off completely, making the SMA disease a progressive disorder.

SMA severity varies according to the degree of dysfunction in the SMN1 gene. Common signs and symptoms of spinal muscular atrophy include:

  • Poor tendon reflex responses
  • Involuntary tongue movements
  • Involuntary hand tremors
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Hypotonia
  • Decreased joint mobility
  • Respiratory infections
  • Lung disease

Although there’s no cure for this genetic condition, many people with SMA live normal lifespans.

Physical Therapy for SMA Disease

Physical therapy is a system for treating disease, deformity, and injury without using medications or surgery. It employs movement, massage, hot and cold treatments, and other natural methods for improving mobility, strength, and function.

A licensed Physical Therapist is skilled in treating infants, children, and adults with various neuromuscular disorders, including spinal muscular atrophy.  Dr. Atwater and the OSA staff specialize in pediatric spinal deformities and conditions, so if you’re near the Vero Beach and Sebastian, Florida area, please don’t hesitate to contact our office or request an appointment online.

The physical therapist will need to evaluate your child to understand her or his health history, muscle strength, pain level, posture, and motor skill limitations. The therapist will also look at joint mobility, ability to walk, lung function, socialization markers, and overall quality of life.

The goal of using physical therapy for spinal muscular atrophy is to increase the patient’s motor skills to help him or her live a fuller, more independent, and happier life.

Your child’s physical therapy treatment plan may include any of the following elements:

  • Therapeutic Exercises
  • Strength Training
  • Developmental Skills Training
  • Head and Trunk Control Training
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Assistive Devices

Special training may be needed to help your child develop skills for eating, sitting down, getting dressed, standing up, walking, rolling, crawling, or changing positions. Your therapist may also offer instruction for better managing respiratory complications that are common in SMA.

Almost all physical therapy plans utilize strength training and therapeutic exercises to increase the child’s muscle tone and function. These therapies help to inhibit the progression of joint immobility, respiratory complications, and other common markers of the SMA disease.

Spinal muscular atrophy is a progressive disease that occurs mostly in infants and children. It is a genetic abnormality caused by defects in the SMN1 gene that is responsible for producing a protein that is needed for proper muscle control.

Physical therapy is a noninvasive, non-drug approach to enhancing physical functionality and overall quality of life in patients with SMA. A professional pediatric physical therapist can help your child improve motor skills, gain strength, set and achieve goals, increase confidence, and overall live a happier life.

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