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Physiotherapy is a therapeutic science that makes use of manual skills and thermal modalities to correct the deviations from normal health processes. Muscular Dystrophy is a life disabling condition, that makes a person dependent upon a wheelchair in later stages of the disease, demands maintenance of the bodily functions and reconditioning of affected tissues. This can be primarily brought about by physiotherapy which has no side effects.

In brief, we can line up the benefits of therapy.

  1. It helps in maintaining the range of motion of different joints
  2. It helps in the prevention of contractures
  3. Helps in muscle strengthening of involved limbs
  4. Works on ergonomics (in modifying the environment as per the status of the person living with MD, at home, at  the workplace, in bedrooms, in washrooms, in the kitchen)
  5. Helps in simplifying the tasks of daily routine by providing them the needed assistive devices.
  6. Works on gait training, as per requirements of the person and guides him/her for the needed ambulatory devices, wheelchairs measurements, adapting the wheelchair, canes, calipers, crutches etc.
  7. Plays an important role in counseling of the family of the person, and counseling of overcoming the attitudinal barriers.
  8. It helps in giving compensatory movements for a specific task, or if need be a change of dominance. It can guide for splints and orthosis. (resting or dynamic)
  9. Works on relieving stress, by enhancing group therapies in case of adults and play therapies in case of children. (the group should be more or less the same type
  10. Encouraging social workers of the society to organize more and more recreational programs 
  11. Works in maintaining proper breathing patterns and proper blood circulation.
  12. Physiotherapy makes the person do proper exercises, active or resistive, with consequent grading to avoid fatigue, as in-person living with

MD should not fatigue his/her muscles.

According to age and progression of the disease. Muscular Dystrophy is a physically limiting condition that can be a source of frustration to the patients. However, with constant counseling and  Physiotherapy, most of the functions can be retained and maintained. As the whole physiotherapy helps, but while treating the children with Duchenne’s MD one can at most try and maintain the available range of motion and bodily functions. It is a sad reality but the progression of Duchenne’s MD cannot be delayed any better than any other form of MD. We can only try and provide a better quality of life. Besides all, one’s own will to lead a happier life is the key to successful therapy.


MD has a gradual onset and a progressive course. With medications and Physiotherapy, the course of the disease can be modified and delayed but not stopped.
The presence of an ancestral history of MD makes the progenies of that pedigree more susceptible to get affected. Environmental variations of the sorts that might cause genetic mutations in the fetus are a risk factor too. Males are prone to be affected by most forms of MD.
Besides the specific symptoms of each type, in general, there is a muscular weakness of various muscle groups in the patient. A few sites like the hips and the calves seem to develop greater muscle bulk when actually that is purely fatty tissue deposition. This is called pseudohypertrophy. Clinically, when a child with Duchene’s MD is asked to stand up from a crouched-on-floor position, he uses his hands in a manner as if trying to climb over oneself in an attempt to stand erect. (GOWER’S SIGN )
Defects of vision and difficulty in swallowing are a key representation of the oculopharyngeal type of MD, the involvement of facial muscles is primarily seen in the facioscapulohumeral type of MD. Sensory changes are rarely seen.involvement of the heart and respiratory muscles are the cause of fatality in a few of the types of MD.


A patient with muscular dystrophy faces many challenges in life. Besides the physical limitations that render the patient dependent upon his/her family members for the basic functional requirements, there are many psycho-social aspects to this disorder as well. Gradually intricate and in the long run even the gross motor functions are lost. The patient becomes dependent upon others for most of the activities of daily living. It is in such situations that a feeling of invalidity develops in the minds and hearts of these patients. Depending on age groups different psychosocial behavior is seen amongst the patients. The lack of play amongst toddlers, lack of companionship in young adults and family insecurity in all of them are the key features of their psychosocial status. For the many challenges they face, the patients deserve support not sympathy, we need to empathize and re-integrate them in the normal social functioning for their well-being.


The main goal of physiotherapy in patients with MD is to maintain the available function in their limbs and attain maximum possible improvement in the associated disabilities. This would help the patient attain a socially functional status so that he/she can function in the surroundings, of their own accord, bringing about a sense of independence in the patients.

The therapeutic practices involved and their importance in the life of an MD patient are as follows:


A patient with MD often complains of musculoskeletal pains at various sites. Electrotherapeutic modalities like paraffin wax bath over the fractured limb, TENS, IFT, ULTRASONIC THERAPY for tender points and CONTRAST BATH can be done to relieve such pains.

PASSIVE MOVEMENT: Passive movements are a technique that involves movement of limbs by the physiotherapist, in all ranges, in a manner so as to maintain joint and muscle integrity. Long term immobilization in patients due to the weakness of the muscles can render the muscle fibrotic and the joint may become stiff. To avoid the development of these comorbidities one needs to maintain the integrity of structures by passive movements.

ACTIVE ASSISTED MOVEMENTS: The MD patient has limited muscle power. Therefore, with maximum effort, they can attain only a limited range by active contraction of their muscle. To maintain this power, the maximum amount of activity up to the fatigue threshold should be encouraged in these patients. While the patient maintains muscle force, the physiotherapist should assist the completion of this movement in the normal biomechanical pattern. This will maintain the joint proprioception i.e. the sense of joint position in space.

STRETCHING MANOEUVRES: Often again due to immobility and poor power of muscles, the muscles shorten in length. The joints adapt a gravity-assisted position and internal muscular forces cannot work against the external gravitational force. As a result of this joint contractures develop. To open up these joints and retain the normal muscle length, stretching is done on the joints. A sustained long duration stretch with crepe bandages or taping can be given initially and this can be toned down a bit in later stages to short-duration stretches with greater repetitions given manually.

JOINT MOBILIZATION: Due to the imbalance of muscular forces, the joints often get displaced from their normal anatomical position. To guide them back so that proper weight bearing can be done on the joints without causing any harm to the associated structures, the physiotherapist passively mobilizes the bones of each joint to bring them in place.

BALANCE AND GAIT TRAINING: Muscular imbalances are so profound in MD that sitting and standing balance are greatly affected in the patients. So with gradual progression from kneeling to quadruped to high sitting to standing position, balance training should be given. As the balance improves the patient will be able to function better by himself/herself. With gradual degradation of power in lower extremities, the locomotion or gait is affected. So gait training involving proper training in parallel bars progressing from supported to unsupported walking should be done under the supervision of the physiotherapist.

HYDROTHERAPY: Hydrotherapy is alternate medicine. Hydrotherapy differs from swimming because it involves special exercises that you can do in a warm- water pool. The water temperature is usually between 33° to 36°.

Hydrotherapy or aquatic exercises are an innate part of the physiotherapy rehabilitation protocol for MD. This helps in the following manner. Hydrotherapy tends to be different than Aquaaerobics, which can be quite strenuous as it is generally more focused on slow, controlled movements and relaxation. 

# Benefits: 

  • The warmth of water allows your muscles to relax and eases the pain in joints, helping us to exercise
  • The water supports your weight which helps to relieve pain and increase the Range of Motion
  • Water provides resistance to moving your joints. By pushing your arms and legs against the water you can also improve your muscle strength.
  • The buoyancy of water protects and braces the weak joints.
  • In the water, a person can feel very little of his/her own weight so this makes activities of partial weight-bearing possible.
  • Adding floatation devices can assist the movements while adding high-pressure water jet can help in performing mild resistance training in better muscle groups.
  • Warmer water helps in maintaining good thermo-stasis in the body and keeps the active muscle warm and hence at ease.


The extra support that the water provides may make you feel like you can do more exercise than normal, so be careful not to overdo it.

CARDIAC PACING AND BREATHING EXERCISES: As the muscles of the heart and respiratory system weaken, greater chest and cardiac congestion are seen in the patients with MD. To avoid the deleterious effects of an insufficient cardiopulmonary system, one needs to keep in mind a few points.


  • CPT is a treatment generally performed by trained physiotherapists or respiratory therapist whereby breathing is improved by the indirect removal of mucus from the breathing passage of the patient. 
  • The clear airway should be maintained by passive chest manipulations given by the physiotherapist
  • Deep breathing exercises should be taught to condition the general cardiorespiratory performance and endurance
  • Each therapy session lasts for as much as 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Here different areas of the chest wall are percussed to help loosen and move the obstructive, thick mucus towards the center of the chest. 
  • Postural Drainage- It uses gravity to help drain mucus into the mouth by placing the body in specific positions. Each position drains different areas (lobes) of the lungs, the mucus can spit or removed by huffing and cuffing techniques.

COUNSELING: Besides the therapy sessions, it is the duty of the physiotherapist to counsel the patient about what his/her condition is and how he/she may expect to change in the course of the disease. The parents/guardians/caretaker should be enlightened about the progressive and degrading condition of the disease and the fatality of the condition if applicable. They should be explained the necessity of the physiotherapy regime that needs to be followed back at home as well after one or two sessions under the physiotherapist’s supervision.

GENETIC COUNSELLING: A prime part of counseling involves Genetic Counselling. As MD is an inheritable disorder, patients with MD who are in their youth or adulthood should be explained the risks involved in having their biological progeny. This can increase the risk of developing a similar problem in the child as well. Only by chance can the presence of this condition skip a few generations but the innate problem of the affected gene remains. Thus if not now, the condition can easily present in one or the other following generations. To avoid this, even if one generation is of adopted children, the risk of affections in the future progenies is greatly reduced.
The physiotherapist’s duty also includes the prescription of orthoses and wheelchairs in conjunction with other rehabilitation professionals.


OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST: An occupational therapist has a very vast role to play. The OT is responsible for training the affected individual in a manner that he/she can attain a good level of independence in the Activities of Daily Living. Besides this, modified workplace and home designs as per the patients’ ergonomic requirements and designing of assistive devices like long-handled spoons, scooting chairs, etc. are done by the OT.

NUTRITIONIST/DIETICIAN: MD patients need to take a balanced diet in a manner that they do not put on weight due to lack of physical activity and that they get adequate proteins to make up for the deficiency of the same in their diet. A nutritionist is responsible for setting up diet plans for the patients.
Speech Therapist:  In muscular dystrophies like Occulopharyngeal and Facio-scapular-humeral dystrophy, speech articulation can be affected. Thus under the supervision of a trained speech therapist, the patient can be taught to recruit accessory muscles for speech articulation.

PROSTHESIS AND ORTHOTICS ENGINEER: These rehabilitation professionals are specialized in designing necessary orthoses for the patients according to their specific measurements and requirements. They also give basic lessons upon the usage of those orthoses.

Muscular Dystrophy is a physically limiting condition that can be a source of frustration to the patients. However, with constant counseling and Physiotherapy, most of the functions can be retained and maintained. As the whole physiotherapy helps, but while treating the children with Duchenne’s MD one can at most try and maintain the available range of motion and bodily functions. Progression of Duchenne’s MD cannot be delayed any better than any other form of MD. We can only try and provide a better quality of life. Besides all, one’s own will to lead a happier life is the key to successful therapy.


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