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What is the role of exercise in the treatment of post-polio syndrome?

The symptoms of pain, weakness, and fatigue can result from the overuse and misuse of muscles and joints. These same symptoms can also result from disuse of muscles and joints. This fact has caused a misunderstanding about whether to encourage or discourage exercise for polio survivors or individuals who already have post-polio syndrome.

Exercise is safe and effective when carefully prescribed and monitored by experienced health professionals. Exercise is more likely to benefit those muscle groups that were least affected by polio. Cardiopulmonary endurance training is usually more effective than strengthening exercises. Heavy or intense resistive exercise and weight-lifting using polio-affected muscles may be counterproductive because they can further weaken rather than strengthen these muscles.

Exercise prescriptions should include

  • the specific muscle groups to be included,

  • the specific muscle groups to be excluded, and

  • the type of exercise, together with frequency and duration.

Exercise should be reduced or discontinued if additional weakness, excessive fatigue, or unduly prolonged recovery time is noted by either the individual with post-polio syndrome or the professional monitoring the exercise.

Return to Post-Polio Syndrome

See what others are saying

Comment from: LFtech, 65-74 Male (Patient) Published: March 25

I had paralytic polio at age 7. Post-polio syndrome exhibited itself in 1995. I have bulbar center autonomic abdominal issues, with sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and lack of intestinal motility and spinal muscular issues such as chronic leg pain. I had some issues which aquatic therapy helped, but following a knee replacement, when I returned to physical therapy, they no longer had access to a pool. The land therapy has proven to be detrimental. I am looking for relief from my persistent leg pain.

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Comment from: LikeALion, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: March 08

Varied exercises have to be done, never repetitive, as repetitive can destroy muscle cells or weaken them, without regaining original strength. Do something that you like, vary it, using all the muscles at different times, rest tired or weak muscles, then gradually do something. It is all about balance! Most rehabilitation technicians do not know or understand post-polio syndrome (PPS) muscle issues or know appropriate exercise. And most do not think that PPS is an issue anymore! Be very careful who you use as a therapist or what you do! You are your own best consultant for what you need or what works for you! Educate your therapist. Rest. Love yourself with a balance of exercise or use of muscles and rest. And remember to take a day off now and then! Whey protein helps with the fatigue!

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Comment from: Mr Natural, 65-74 Male (Patient) Published: March 07

I contracted polio in my right leg at the age of 2 in 1946. I believe I was hospitalized for about 6 weeks. I fully recovered to the extent of being able to play small college basketball. However I was 6 ft 5 inch but could not dunk with two hands; most folks that tall can. By the time I was in the Air Force playing with the base B ball team I could no longer dunk at all. Over the years minor degradation continued (but did not restrict activities in any way) until now where my balance is less than ideal. Finally I got a definitive diagnosis a few days ago that it is indeed post-polio syndrome. I was prescribed CoQ10 and vitamin E, 3 times per day and to hit the gym. I'm not sure just how hard it is to hit the gym but will continue research.

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