Physiotherapeutic Exercises for Cerebellar Ataxia

Cerebellar ataxia affects the nervous system by decreasing balance and coordination most typically in the trunk, arms and legs. There are acute, chronic progressive and recurrent forms of cerebellar ataxia all with similar symptoms and treatment. Physical therapy is often used to help alleviate the symptoms of cerebellar ataxia. Diagnosis and treatment of cerebellar ataxia should be done by a medical professional.

About Cerebellar Ataxia

The cerebellum is the portion of the brain that controls balance and coordination. It does not function properly during cerebellar ataxia. Young children are most commonly diagnosed with acute cerebellar ataxia following a viral infection. Current and chronic cerebellar ataxia may occur from stroke, migraines, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, seizures and other genetic, acute or autoimmune diseases.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of cerebellar ataxia may include uncoordinated movements in the limbs, clumsiness, unsteadiness, abnormal eye movements and visual complaints. Diagnosis of cerebellar ataxia is done by a physician and tests may include a spinal tap, MRI or CT scan, blood tests, urine analysis and nerve conduction study.

Treatment and Therapy

Treatment of cerebellar ataxia usually involves treating the underlying condition as well as the symptoms. Medications are occasionally used to improve coordination along with occupational or physical therapy. Therapy is used to improve balance and increase the independence of the patient using techniques focusing on balance, posture and increasing coordination. Therapeutic goals include improving balance and posture against outside stimuli, increasing joint stabilization, developing independent, functional gait to promote independence. Training principles include progressing from simple to complex exercises, practicing exercises with eyes open and closed and providing support with home exercise and sports activities.

Therapy for Balance

Lack of balance is one of the main symptoms of cerebellar ataxia and physical therapy is used to help improve balance. Stabilizing the trunk and proximal muscles should begin with mat activities such as moving onto the forearms from lying face down; crawling; and moving onto the knees and into a sitting position. Gait training should also be done, as it is an excellent indicator of stabilization and balance. Therapy should be prescribed by a physician and carried out by a trained physical therapist.

Therapy for Proprioception

Proprioception is controlled by the cerebellum and involves knowing where body parts are located in space and in relation to each other. Therapy involves plyometric exercises, balance board and mini trampoline exercises. Vibration and suit therapy are also used to improve proprioception, posture and movement. Yoga and other body-awareness exercises may also be included in the treatment plan to increase proprioception. Therapy should be prescribed by a physician and carried out by a trained physical therapist.

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