Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a severe degenerative neurological disorder. ALS attacks and destroys the nerve cells (neurons) that control voluntary movement. As muscles atrophy, patients lose motor control, progressively losing the ability to walk, to move their extremities, to swallow and to speak.

There is no cure currently available for ALS, so treatment focuses on relieving symptoms. A combination of medications, speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy may be used to manage this condition. The goal of treatment for patients with ALS is to provide them with as much physical and emotional comfort as possible and to help them adjust as they lose function.

A physical therapy program can help patients with ALS with walking, mobility, and bracing or assistive devices that can help maintain independence. A physical therapist can help an individual with ALS become accustomed to a brace, walker or wheelchair. Physical therapy and special equipment can enhance a person’s independence and safety throughout the course of ALS. Low-impact exercises such as such as walking, swimming, and stationary bicycling, may be introduced to maintain heart function, strengthen muscles and fight fatigue and depression. Range-of-motion and stretching exercises can help prevent painful spasticity and muscle contractures.

People with ALS who have difficulty speaking may also benefit from working with a speech therapist. A speech therapist can demonstrate strategies to help individuals speak louder and more clearly. As the disease progresses, speech therapists can help people develop ways to communicate with their eyes or by other nonverbal means. They may also recommend aids such as speech synthesizers and computer-based communication systems.

Additional Resources