People with ataxia lack muscle coordination when they perform voluntary movements such as walking or picking up objects. A sign of an underlying condition, ataxia can also affect speech, eye movements and the ability to swallow, and may be caused by alcohol abuse, stroke, head trauma, brain tumor, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or a defective gene. If you are not aware of having one of these conditions that causes ataxia, make an appointment to see your physician if you lose balance; lose muscle coordination in a hand, arm or leg; have difficulty walking; slur your speech; or experience difficulty swallowing.
Unfortunately, ataxia is often resistant to medical treatment. But for many people with ataxia, physical therapy can be a very effective treatment to improve their quality of life. Physical therapy for ataxia can include many approaches, such as
- balance exercises
- stabilization techniques
- the use of supportive devices
Initial treatment includes identifying the underlying cause and trying to address it, if possible. Successful treatment is more likely when a person has suffered an injury. People with a degenerative neurological condition face a more difficult path. But in both circumstances, physical therapy can be an important tool to manage the condition. Physical therapy techniques can help you to retrain yourself to perform tasks that have become challenging due to ataxia. By teaching adaptation techniques and supporting motor learning, we can help you attain better gait, coordination and balance. In turn, you can reduce your risk of falls and other injury resulting from your ataxia. We can develop a program that facilitates success in everyday activities. This program may include training with devices that will help you overcome your ataxia, as well as exercises that reduce your risk of falls from poor balance. Physical therapy interventions can help people with ataxia to take better control of their lives.