Living With Polio

Feeling Weak

Post-Polio Health, Volume 30, Number 1, Winter 2014
Ask Dr. Maynard
Frederick M. Maynard, MD

Question: I am 66, and I had polio at age 3. My muscles are feeling weak, so if you know what I can do about it I would be grateful. I am depressed about this.

Answer: Your concerns about muscle weakening along with muscle and joint pains are the classic post-polio syndrome problem. Try to be thankful if it has not become a big concern until your mid-60s, because it can begin and limit many polio survivors in their 40s.

What you can do about your problem depends a lot on what the primary causative factors for the weakening are, and you will have to take a major role in figuring this out, ideally with the help of your physicians and therapists.

First, one needs to fully look into your general health: thyroid disease, anemia. Vitamin D and other deficiency syndromes, heart and lung disease, depression, sleep disturbances, obesity, etc.

Second, is your weakening a result of gradually doing less and less because when you try to do more it hurts? This is the “vicious cycle” of pain/rest/weakening/more pain with activity/less activity/weakening/fatigue. Options for breaking up this cycle often take analysis by rehabilitation professionals to decide where to start interventions.

Treating the pain and trying to focus on feasible exercise for strengthening muscles, where possible, are one part of the solution. Another part is often doing activities differently, including walking with braces or canes. Water exercises are often a great option for stretching, strengthening and conditioning. Complementary and alternative medicine methods are helpful for controlling pain. Treating any sleep disturbance is very important, and nutrition must be considered.

In other words, management must be comprehensive with the goal of making you sufficiently comfortable and functional to continue to live a satisfying life, even if that means giving up some things and doing some things differently. There are a lot of resources that can help with these challenges.

I hope these general thoughts help you take charge and begin putting together a plan to help yourself by improving or dealing with your weakening and its consequences.

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