Aquatic Therapy for Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Aquatic therapy is an excellent way to maintain mobility, strength, and flexibility

By Salem Y, Gropack SJ. from the Division of Physical Therapy, Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, Brooklyn, New York, USA.

This case report describes an aquatic therapy program and the outcomes for a 3-year-old girl with type III Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Motor skills were examined using:

  • 88-item Gross Motor Function Measure (GMFM)
  • Peabody Developmental Motor Scales (PDMS-2)
  • GAITRite system.

The child received aquatic therapy twice per week for 45-min sessions, for 14 weeks. The intervention included aquatic activities designed to improve gross motor skills and age-appropriate functional mobility.

  1. The GMFM total score improved by 11% following the intervention.
  2. The Standing Dimension score improved by 28%.
  3. The Walking, Running, and Jumping Dimension score improved by 18%.
  4. The gross motor quotient for the PDMS-2 improved from 66 to 74.

The child's gait showed improvement in walking velocity, stride length, and single-limb support time as a percentage of the gait cycle.

The outcomes of this case report demonstrate the successful improvement of gross motor function and gait in a 3-year-old child with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. This study provides clinical information for therapists utilizing aquatic therapy as a modality for children with neuromuscular disorders.

What Is Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)?

Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) refers to a group of inherited diseases of the motor nerves that cause muscle weakness and atrophy (wasting). The motor nerves arise from the spinal cord and control the muscles that are used for activities such as breathing, crawling, walking, head and neck control, and swallowing. Spinal Muscular Atrophy affects muscles throughout the body. In the most common types, weakness in the legs is generally greater than in the arms. Sometimes feeding, swallowing, and respiratory function (e.g., breathing, coughing, and clearing secretions) can be affected. When the muscles used for breathing and coughing are affected and weakened, this can lead to an increased risk for pneumonia and other respiratory infections, as well as breathing difficulty during sleep. The brain’s cognitive functions and the ability to feel objects and pain are not affected. People with Spinal Muscular Atrophy are generally grouped into one of four types (I, II, III, IV) based on their highest level of motor function or ability.