By Jacob Ahlstrom | Posted - Jul 18th, 2019





Physical Therapy for ALS Patients

Despite there being no cure for ALS, there are a variety of treatment options for those affected by the disease. One of these being physical therapy. Physical therapy is one of many treatments that can help reduce pain and instill a feeling of independence in ALS patients.

Why Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is very beneficial to ALS patients. Because ALS is a disease that affects one's mobility, helping a patient maximize their capabilities is essential. Physical therapy also helps ALS patients keep unaffected muscle healthy, preventing further loss of motion. As ALS progresses, some patients may begin to feel like a burden on others; physical therapy can help this too. One of the physical therapies most significant benefits is helping ALS patients stay independent as long as they are able. 

Physical Therapist

A key component in physical therapy is a physical therapist. Difficulty with balance, walking, endurance, and functional activities are all signs that you should see a physical therapist. Part of a physical therapist's job is to help determine which exercises are best for a patient. They evaluate a patient's general mobility, strength, and joint mobility.  Based on this, they recommend exercises that can help reduce and prevent physical pain. A physical therapist can asl recommend specific equipment. They also help instruct a patient how to use it, and how to adjust to it. It is essential for patients not to wait to see a physical therapist. 


Some might assume that the best way to keep their muscles healthy and active is to go as hard as possible. In the case of ALS patients, this is highly discouraged. The best way for an ALS patient to exercise is by spacing out their activities over several hours and avoiding pushing themselves too far. After doing their exercises, a patient shouldn't feel sore or fatigue. Pushing this hard can increase muscle weakness. 

The best exercises for ALS patients are aerobic, low impact, and range of motion exercises. Aerobic exercises increase heart rate and respiratory rate of patients. By doing this, they help increase muscle efficiency and endurance. Low impact exercises help a patient maintain their cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. Range of motion exercises (ROM) helps a patient's joints move through their full range of motion. By doing them daily, they can prevent pain and stiffness. ROM exercises are also best if performed actively. If a patient's muscle weakness limits movement, performing ROM passively is still beneficial.


As mentioned before, physical therapists are also able to recommend equipment to an ALS patient if needed. There are a couple of different types of equipment for ALS patients that help with mobility. 

Assistive devices are one type of equipment. Also known as "mobility equipment," they provide a safer walking experience for ALS patients. These devices include canes, quad canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. A patient will be recommended to use a cane when one leg is stronger than the other. A cane helps with mild balance deficits and helps shift a patient's weight. A quad cane is a cane with four legs at the end; they provide patients with more stability. If a patient experiences significant leg weakness, they may need a walker. A walker helps provide support for maintaining balance. When a patient experiences excessive fatigue, falls, and unsteadiness, they'll be recommended a wheelchair. Wheelchairs help gives a patient more independence. 

Bracing is another type of equipment recommended through physical therapy. Bracing is most useful when an ALS patient experiences ankle weakness and neck muscle weakness. For ankle weakness, a patient can use the ankle-foot brace. This brace stabilizes the ankle, preventing toe dragging while walking. A neck brace is most helpful in keeping the head lifted when neck muscles are too weak to do so. 

There are also smaller devices that can aid with ALS. These devices help ALS patients with turning keys, tying shoes, writing, getting dressed, and other daily activities. A physical therapist can recommend these devices too. 

Jacob Ahlstrom
About the Author

Jacob Ahlstrom - Jacob is a Neuroscience undergraduate at Brigham Young University. Jacob's interest in researching and writing about ALS is fueled by his hope to make the process easier for everyone else. Over the last year he has worked alongside Seth Christensen to find ways to educate and connect ALS patients.