Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disease with a remarkably wide range in effects. SMA has four levels of severity, and for the most part the severity changes depending on the age that the disease takes hold. SMA affects spinal neurons, particularly the ones that manage the consciously-controlled skeletal muscles, which means it limits its victims’ ability to move their arms, legs, and heads, and if it’s bad enough it can even prevent someone from breathing or swallowing.
The worst variant, type I, begins within the first year of life and is often so bad that the child is unable to breathe without outside assistance. It’s so bad that even though SMA only affects 1 in 6000 live births, it has the highest infant fatality rate of any genetic disease.
Type II and type III are much more survivable, fortunately, and type IV, which is the only adult-onset variant, allows a limited amount of independent mobility. Curiously, while this disease is based on an inability to produce a certain kind of protein essential for spinal neurons, the onset delay seems to be based on how many replacement proteins the affected person can produce from neighboring genes.
Caring In The Long Term
Despite the four specific levels, SMA seems to operate more on a continuum, and one that’s not always directly linked to the time of its onset. Only 10 percent of children born to type I SMA successfully live into adulthood, but the chances of a full and successful life vary wildly for type II children. Much of the prognosis is based on whether the child is able to breathe on his or her own, but that varies from child to child rather than from one type to another.
The techniques needed to care for SMA-stricken children also vary on a case-by-case basis. If a child loses the ability to sit or stand on his or her own, what usually follows is the complete atrophy of his or her spinal muscles, the ones that act on your spine to let you move in any direction. Without these muscles to keep the back straight and in its proper three-curve position, the spines of SMA children frequently twist into kyphosis and scoliosis, and as such orthopedic surgeons generally prefer to fuse their spines together by age 10 so that their lungs won’t be affected by an unusual shape.
Fortunately, SMA does leave two spots completely untouched no matter how bad it gets: it never affects the brain, and it never affects the heart. In fact, just about all the SMA children who survive their childhood manage to live long, productive lives, and even those children who grow up to be adults who cannot so much as sit up on their own often report a surprising amount of satisfaction with their lives.
The Importance Of Constant Exercise
Something that’s worth considering about SMA is the fact that when it takes effect it doesn’t completely destroy all the nerve cells that let the victims control their bodies – instead, it seems to remove their ability to create additional cells that do so. But while the old cells may stick around for some time, especially in type IV cases, there also seems to be some steady degeneration over time as the old cells die off as they decide they’re unneeded.
As such, consistent and persistent exercise would appear to be a key aspect of care for any SMA child or adult who is still capable of doing so. As the old saying goes, “Use it or lose it.” Considering that using it may mean the difference between being able to stand up independently or not, “using it” becomes a far more important activity than normal.
With this in mind, it becomes clear how chiropractors can help in cases of spinal muscular atrophy. While a chiropractor can’t bring back what’s already gone, he or she can use chiropractic techniques like chiropractic biophysics to encourage a person with SMA to exercise otherwise ignored and atrophying spinal muscles, muscles which he or she needs to hold onto in order to keep an equally important fully articulated spine. It certainly doesn’t hurt to try – if chiropractic therapy fails to maintain the muscles of the spine, then the spine can be fused anyway.
The Proof In The Pudding
There is direct evidence which supports the idea that chiropractic care can help individuals who suffer from SMA. In 2009, a 35-year-old man came to a university outpatient chiropractic clinic asking for help with his temporomandibular joint disorder which, along with his SMA type III, prevented him from opening his jaw more than 11 millimeters, an action which caused him a pain rating of 5 out of 10.
In response, the chiropractor provided the man with careful stretching exercises, myofascial release therapy, and trigger point therapy. With little more than some mild massaging and exercise, the man added an extra millimeter to his jaw opening distance, and more importantly he successfully removed the pain and tenderness from before, enabling him to actually eat and chew.
Of course, a sample size of one does not have the same gravity as a comprehensive double-blind study about the effects of chiropractic techniques on muscular degenerative genetic diseases, but at the same time it’s a promising way to start. Many afflicted individuals are already gravitating towards complementary and alternative medical practices such as chiropractic care and acupuncture.
And while such alternatives cannot and should not completely replace the kind of care and expertise that you can usually count on from traditional clinics and hospitals, chiropractic care gave a man with SMA and TMJ the ability to chew his own food without any of the expense or risk of surgery. Even if this recovery wasn’t permanent, the cost savings and the risk-free techniques used more than make up for the difference (and even surgery can’t guarantee permanent results).
If you need to exercise your spinal muscles, whether it’s because of a genetic disease or otherwise, you should consider consulting with a chiropractor to see what techniques he or she can offer. And if you happen to be looking in Vancouver, then look no further than Dr. Stuart Kilian’s Advantage Chiropractic.