There’s a misconception that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is not a physically painful disease. That’s true on one hand because ALS does not directly cause pain. However, it’s also false because the disease does result in muscle problems that can be very painful. There are four types of muscle problems that can result in pain for an ALS patient. Understanding what causes muscle pain in your loved one with ALS can help you to be better prepared for dealing with episodes of pain.
Four Kinds of Muscle Problems
As the nerve cells that feed the muscles die off, the muscles atrophy. This process can be painful and cause four kinds of reactions in the muscles:
- Twitching: Muscle twitches, or fasciculations, are sometimes among the first noticeable symptoms of ALS. Twitches aren’t necessarily painful, but they are irritating. They can be persistent enough to interrupt sleep. Fasciculations can be seen as well as felt.
- Fibrillation: Muscle fibrillation is similar to twitching, but the ALS patient may not feel them. Instead, they show up on electromyograms (EMGs).
- Cramping: Cramping can occur because of irritation to the nerves or because of muscle fatigue. They can occur in any muscle throughout the body and can be very painful. Diane Huberty, a registered nurse and ALS patient describes them as “good old-fashioned Charlie horses.” As the disease progresses, cramping lessens because the muscles become too weak to cramp.
- Spasticity: Spasticity is characterized by jerky, uncontrolled movements and rigid muscles. In some cases, spasticity can be helpful since it can mimic muscle strength, allowing a person to perform some functions longer. Spasticity isn’t always painful, but it can also lead to muscle cramps that cause pain.
Tips for Handling Muscle Problems and Pain
Home care providers and family caregivers can help ALS patients who are experiencing irritating or painful muscle problems to regain comfort through several techniques. Below are some tips that may help:
- Avoid Over-Exertion: Trying to do too much can wear muscles out and lead to muscle fatigue and pain. Allow a person with ALS to save their strength for activities they find important. A home care provider can help by assisting with tasks around the house, allowing the person to rest more.
- Exercise and Stretch: Stretching and practicing range-of-motion exercise can prevent stiffness in joints and tight muscles. A physical therapist will be able to suggest appropriate exercises. Some exercises may require assistance, which a home care provider can do.
- Rub to Reduce Twitches: Light pressure or rubbing can calm muscle twitches.
- Use Therapy Bags: Therapy bags that contain rice, flax seed, or other types of fillers can be warmed in the microwave or cooled in the freezer to use as hot and cold packs.
- Practice Good Posture: Use pillows or other back supports to help the person sit up better. This can alleviate pain in the back.
Although the progression of ALS cannot be stopped, it is possible for people with ALS to live more comfortably. Doctors may be able to prescribe medications to help with muscle pain or refer the patient to a physical therapist for exercises that can help prevent or reduce pain. Home care providers can also help by making sure the ALS patient is sitting comfortably, using therapy bags, and saving their strength for things they enjoy rather than using it on daily tasks.
If you or an aging loved-one are considering home care in Daleville, AL, please contact the caring staff at Wiregrass HomeCare today. Call us at 334-539-5900.
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