Managing Post Polio Syndrome

Managing Fatigue

The key to managing the fatigue caused by post-polio syndrome is altering your lifestyle. At the simplest level this means pacing your day well and conserving energy. You should take regular rest breaks during the day, perhaps including an afternoon nap. You may also benefit from making the most of your sleep by using relaxation techniques or medication (though note the list of drugs to avoid).

It is important to conserve your energy and there are many simple changes you can make to your routine or your environment that will make things easier for you. For example

  • Avoid tiring activities, such as making the bed
  • Sit instead of standing
  • Keep things you use regularly in easy reach
  • Use disabled parking to reduce walking distances

You may also benefit from changing jobs or working fewer hours if your job is demanding.

Management of Weakness

  • Avoid muscle overuse
  • If necessary, use crutches or a wheelchair
  • Keep your weight down (unwelcome advice perhaps, but the benefits are obvious)
  • Get adequate nutrition, including enough bulk producing fibre
  • Have regular muscle strength evaluations
  • Exercise carefully. There are two aspects to this advice. On the one hand, you should avoid over-exercising. However, you should also ensure that you do get some exercise to keep your muscles in shape. You should develop an exercise plan to fit your needs under the supervision of a medical professional. Swimming (in warm water is best), aquajogging and yoga are good exercises that may be appropriate for you. A good rule of thumb is to work muscles to only half their capacity for half the maximum number of repetitions. If your exercise causes fatigue, you are doing too much.

Managing Pain

Pain can be caused by a variety of effects, not only as a direct symptom of post-polio syndrome, but also possibly as a result of strain or carpal tunnel syndrome from using crutches. There are several strategies for dealing with pain, depending on its source.

  • Reducing activity and pacing your activities, as for managing fatigue, should help reduce muscle pain
  • Ice or moist heat can be applied to areas of pain
  • Joint and soft tissue pain may require physical therapy, assistive devices, strengthening your limbs or changing the way you use your limbs. Orthopedic surgery on joint deformities may help.
  • Pain killers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, prescribed by a doctor, may be required (note though the list of drugs to avoid)

Managing Respiratory Problems

Problems with breathing may arise from weakness in respiratory muscles or damage from bulbar polio. Post-polio syndrome may also exacerbate breathing difficulties caused by other conditions, such as lung disease, smoking or heart disease.

If you have regular respiratory problems, it is important to protect yourself from diseases that may further affect your breathing, such as influenza. Hence you should keep up to date with flu vaccinations.

If you suffer from severe breathing problems or sleep apnea, it may be important to have these treated by a medical professional.

Managing Problems Swallowing

Problems swallowing may be encountered because of weakness in the muscles used in swallowing.

If necessary, you might consider switching to a diet of softer, easier to swallow food. There are also certain techniques that make swallowing easier, such as swallowing with your head turned to one side. It is also good advice to avoid eating when you are fatigued. You may for example find it easier to have larger meals earlier in the day.

Managing Psychological Difficulties

Some of the worst effects of post-polio syndrome are not physical. The loss of independence and the difficulties in changing lifestyle can be very upsetting, particularly having once already conquered polio.

It is important to maintain a positive attitude. However, this obvious advice is not likely to be enough for most people. Therefore, you are encouraged to join your local Post Polio Support Group for support.

It is important to watch out for signs of depression, not only personally, but your friends and family should also be aware.

There are many options for dealing with psychological difficulties and depression, and your medical professional can advise you of them. You should not be reluctant to make use of them.