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Physical Therapy for Muscular Dystrophy – Information, Exercises, and More

Muscular dystrophy can be difficult to deal with.

However, there are treatments that can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of muscle weakness due to muscular dystrophy, including physical therapy.

Keep reading to learn how physical therapy for muscular dystrophy can help you get the most out of your life.


What Is Muscular Dystrophy?

Muscular dystrophy is a group of genetically-inherited diseases that cause a progression of muscle weakness and loss of muscle mass.

While there are nine types of muscular dystrophy that have been identified, the most common types include:

  1. Myotonic
  2. Duchenne
  3. Becker
  4. Facioscapulohumeral

Approximately 250,000 people in the United States are affected by muscular dystrophy in the United States. 

What Causes Muscular Dystrophy?

Muscular dystrophy is an inherited disease. Mutations in the genes responsible for muscle structure and function cause the disease
Families with genetic history of muscular dystrophy may benefit from genetic counseling.

Muscular Dystrophy Symptoms

Symptoms of muscular dystrophy can be unique to the type of muscular dystrophy and present at different times throughout one’s lifespan. The number one symptom of muscular dystrophy is progressive muscle weakness.

Other common symptoms of muscular dystrophy include:

  • Difficulty moving from a seated position or lying down
  • Muscle contractures
  • Falling frequently
  • Trouble doing physical activities such as running or jumping
  • Gait issues
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Delayed growth
  • And more


Muscular Dystrophy Treatment

There is no cure for muscular dystrophy. However, medical treatment can help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Common treatments for muscular dystrophy includes:

  1. Medication
  2. Surgery
  3. Medical devices
  4. Physical therapy


Some medications that a doctor may prescribe to help manage muscular dystrophy symptoms include:

  • Corticosteroids: Certain types of corticosteroids, such as prednisone and deflazacort, can help with muscle strength and delay the progression of muscle weakness in some forms of muscular dystrophy.
  • Eteplirsen: Also known as Exondys 51, is the first medication to be FDA-approved to treat people with muscular dystrophy.
  • Golodirsen: Also known as Vyondys 53, golodirsen is FDA-approved to treat people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy that have a certain gene mutation.
  • Heart medications: Heart medications, such as beta-blockers or angiotensin-converting enzymes, can be prescribed for heart damage caused by muscular dystrophy.


Surgery may be required to address issues that cause respiratory or cardiac issues. 

For example, if a person with muscular dystrophy struggles with breathing, surgery may be needed to correct contractures or spinal curvature that can make breathing more difficult. If a person with muscular dystrophy is struggling with cardiac issues, a pacemaker or cardiac device may be needed to relieve stress on the heart muscles.

Medical Devices

Assistive devices can help improve the quality of life and independence of those dealing with muscular dystrophy. 

Some medical devices commonly prescribed to people struggling with muscular dystrophy include:

  • Braces: Braces can help slow the progression of muscle contractures by keeping muscles and tendons stretched and flexible. Braces can also provide support to weakened muscles.
  • Mobility aids: Mobility aids like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs can help a person struggling with muscular dystrophy maintain mobility and increase their independence.
  • Breathing aids: Weakened respiratory muscles can cause breathing issues in people affected by muscular dystrophy. A sleep apnea device can help improve oxygen delivery at night when breathing issues may arise. More severe breathing issues may require ventilation.

Physical Therapy for Muscular Dystrophy – Will it Help?

Physical therapy is an effective treatment for managing muscular dystrophy symptoms and delaying the progression of muscle weakness.

When it comes to physical therapy and muscular dystrophy, seeing a skilled physical therapist is critical. At In Motion O.C., we have treated dozens of patients with muscular dystrophy. 

We work with each patient on a personal level to identify muscle weaknesses and create a customized treatment plan to:

  • Keep muscles as strong and flexible as possible
  • Prevent and reduce muscle contractures
  • Encourage movement to retain mobility as long as possible
  • Address your personal treatment goals

Physical Therapy Exercises for Muscular Dystrophy

Note: Physical therapy for muscular dystrophy can look differently depending on the type of muscular dystrophy you have and your personal symptoms.  Physical therapy exercises for muscular dystrophy should always be attempted with the supervision and guidance of a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

Physical therapy treatment for muscular dystrophy may include the following types of exercises: 

  • Exercises for range of motion
  • Exercises for maintaining strength
  • Exercises for breathing

Exercises for Range of Motion

During range of motion exercises, a physical therapist facilitates gentle stretches to help maintain range of motion and increase joint flexibility.

Exercises for Maintaining Strength

Low impact aerobic exercises, such as aquatic therapy, can be performed with the guidance of a physical therapist to help maintain and improve muscle strength.

Exercises for Breathing

Breathing exercises may be needed to help strengthen respiratory muscles. Physical therapists can also work in conjunction with respiratory and speech therapists to help implement the best treatment plan for strengthening respiratory muscles.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Muscular Dystrophy

You don’t have to deal with muscular dystrophy alone. 

As the #1 rated physical therapy clinic on Yelp! And Google, we have treated dozens of patients with muscular dystrophy and hundreds of patients suffering from other ailments

Our team is dedicated to helping you optimize your health and maintain your independence. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at our Irvine, Fountain Valley, or Huntington Beach physical therapy clinic.

In Motion O.C.