Discovering the Benefits of Massage
My husband, Todd, and I realized that massage could be beneficial for him even before he was diagnosed with ALS. Before we knew why his left arm was weak, I would massage his bicep and forearm, which helped him to better use it. Sometime after the diagnosis, his legs began to weaken, so I worked those muscles, too. If I missed a night, he would walk more stiffly the next day.
Massage extended Todd’s independence, but eventually, ALS claimed the use of both his arms and legs.
Todd was having trouble sleeping because he couldn’t turn himself while in bed. He couldn’t get comfortable, especially after lying in one place for too long. Todd also had trouble operating his wheelchair because his right arm was spastic, making it difficult to straighten the arm to manipulate the joystick.
His doctor prescribed physical therapy, and the therapist performed joint mobilization, muscle distraction techniques, and intensive stretching. Ongoing weekly therapy decreased his pain, helped him sleep, and allowed him to safely operate his wheelchair.
ALS eventually took the use of Todd’s arms entirely, so he had to get a head array to operate his wheelchair. But even that was difficult for him to use because the muscles in his neck pull his head to the left. After the physical therapist added neck stretches to help Todd’s headaches, Todd found that the therapy had the added benefit of allowing him better control of his wheelchair. The stretching also helps him use his computer, because he moves the cursor with a HeadMouse.
At times, we’ve also hired a massage therapist to come weekly to give Todd a deep tissue massage. My mom does range-of-motion exercises and massage on his arms most nights before Todd goes to sleep. And his nighttime caregivers use a massage gun to loosen the spastic muscles in his calves and thighs.
Throughout the downward course of this disease, Todd has found that physical therapy and massage extend his ability to use his weakened muscles.
We made another discovery about the benefits of massage last week. In recent weeks, Todd has had increasing difficulty filling his lungs. He feels like he can’t take a deep breath, like somebody is sitting on his chest. One night, he asked his caregiver to run the massage gun on his chest and ribs. He was pleasantly surprised to find immediate relief, and he was able to expand his chest to fill his lungs. The next day, it seemed like his voice was stronger and he wasn’t losing his voice mid-sentence.
It makes sense that massage would help Todd’s breathing, as he’s noticed this with other muscles all along. But the discovery still came as a pleasant surprise, because there is so little good news with ALS.
We know the decline will continue — he now uses a noninvasive ventilator at times — but we’re hopeful he’ll be able to extend his breathing abilities with ongoing massage.
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