Living With Polio

Polio Survivor with Numbness

Post-Polio Health, Volume 27, Number 4, Fall 2011
Ask Dr. Maynard
Frederick M. Maynard, MD

Question: Do you know of any polio survivors who are experiencing numbness in their affected areas? I did some physical therapy recently for about six weeks using both sides of my body to improve the strength in my unaffected leg, and noticed that my left arm (the affected side) was becoming numb and then later in the day, my left leg would also become numb (just the top part of my arm and leg).

My family doctor is sending me to a neurologist to see if I have a pinched nerve but he and I both think it is polio related. Since I have stopped physical therapy it has quieted down, especially if I use Aleve®, a heating pad, or warm water at the pool. I’d appreciate your advice.

Answer: There are many causes of numbness, but post-polio syndrome is never the DIRECT cause. Polio affected motor nerves only and, therefore, does not lead to numbness or true loss of feeling. Numbness and tingling are, however, common complaints among polio survivors because of the many musculoskeletal problems that they develop as they become older and because of other medical and neurologic conditions they may concurrently develop. A burning feeling over post-polio muscles fatigued by exercise/activity is also a common report.

Based on your description of symptoms (coming and going; located on the top of the arm and/or leg; relieved by Aleve and local heat), it is very likely your symptoms are a referred pain from a more central spinal problem, but they could be due to a “pinched or irritated nerve,” nerve entrapments, circulatory diseases or other causes. A neurologist’s consultation is a good idea in order to rule out serious conditions. If nothing specific is found and symptoms do relate to activity/movement/exercise, then a referred pain from a musculoskeletal problem remains most likely as the cause. Working with your PT to alter your exercise program may also be successful in eliminating/controlling the symptoms.

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