A medical consultant specialising in movement disorders may recommend non-drug therapies in conjunction with medical treatments.
These non-drug therapies may include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech/voice therapy. These therapies help to empower the individual with techniques to achieve greater awareness and control over the body. Ask your consultant treating you about the following non-drug therapies;
- Physiotherapy with a physiotherapist who specialises in neurological conditions
- Aquatic physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and/or voice therapy
- Relaxation and stress management
Physiotherapy may be an important component of treating dystonia for many people. Many forms of dystonia affect mobility, posture, balance, stamina, and the ability to complete everyday tasks. Since Dystonia is a neurological disorder, physiotherapy does not treat the dystonia directly but rather secondary conditions that may accompany the dystonia.
Under the guidance of a neurophysiotherapist (who knows how to treat dystonia) and a doctor, an individual may learn to recognise compensatory movements and habits that may have developed as a result of the dystonia. Being aware of activities that aggravate symptoms and learning beneficial substitute methods may contribute to improved motor control. Physiotherapy may enhance the benefits from other medical treatments, such as oral medications and/or botulinum toxin injections.
Physiotherapy is a slow process that should be approached with commitment and optimism. Results may not be immediately apparent, but a physiotherapy programme can influence many aspects of daily living. Under the guidance of a neurophysiotherapist and doctor, physiotherapy and stress management can help achieve increased awareness and control of one’s movement, environment, and symptoms as well as address secondary complications that may result from dystonia.
The goals of a physiotherapy programme are to:
- Increase and preserve range of motion and mobility needed for function
- Strengthen weakened muscles that may be under-utilised in the presence of dystonia movements
- Promote awareness of posture and maintenance of individual optimal body posture
Physiotherapy is tailored to the needs and circumstances of the individual. Frequent re-evaluation of the dystonia and re-assessment of the personal needs of the affected person are necessary to optimise benefits from the physiotherapy programme.
Voice/ Speech Therapy
Spasmodic dysphonia/laryngeal dystonia and oromandibular dystonia that affects the muscles of the mouth and tongue may impact voice and speech. There are several styles of voice and speech therapy that can help individuals gain better control and optimise the ability to speak. Voice/speech therapy may augment the benefit of botulinum toxin injections.
For individuals that experience difficulty swallowing, specialised swallowing therapy is also available.
To learn if voice/speech or swallowing therapy is appropriate for you, consult your ENT specialist and Speech and Language Therapist.
Relaxation and Stress
Stress can worsen dystonia symptoms, regular relaxation and stress management can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and general well being. The goal is not to remove all stress from your life, but to rather deal with it effectively by incorporating simple practices into your daily weekly routine. The most important part of reducing stress is to address it before it becomes overwhelming, try and aim to create a lifestyle where stress reduction and relaxation become a way of life.
Tips to help deal with stress effectively include:
Learn to identify stress
It is essential to be able to identify stress before you can do something about it. Stress sometimes can make your symptoms suddenly worsen at the most inconvenient moment. Sometimes we get so accustomed to the pressure of everyday life and the added demands of living with a chronic disorder that we don’t really realise how stressed we actually are. One technique for assessing your own stress levels is to imagine a ‘Stress Scale’ that measures from 1 to 100. One is the calmest and most relaxed you could be, and 100 is the highest extreme of fright and panic, equal to how you would feel in a major catastrophe. Ask yourself how you feel at this moment? where are you on the scale?. This may give you an new insight into how you are feeling.
Make a conscious decision to worry less
Worry grinds away at your peace of mind and joy. If you find yourself caught up in the vicious cycle of constant worrying try some of the tips below to help you break the habit.
- Write about or record your worries
Don’t plan on sharing your writing with anyone just do it for yourself and plan to destroy it or keep it in a private place when completed.
- Talk to yourself about your worries
In the great scheme of life ask yourself how relevant are my worries? Will I care about this in five years or five months?
Practice relaxation and mindfulness
The ‘Relaxation Response’ is a physical state of deep rest and changes the body’s physical and emotional responses to stress. It is the direct opposite of the ‘flight or fight response’ triggered by stress and anxiety. With practice, you can use relaxation technique to elicit the relaxation response and calm your body and mind.
Regular relaxation can be extremely beneficial to general well being, particularly for people coping with a chronic disorder like dystonia. There are many relaxation techniques. Here are some of the most common:
- Meditation and self-hypnosis
- Relaxation breathing
- Exercise and movement (for example, yoga tai chi, qi gong)
- Gentle Massage
You can find audio programmes through The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation www. dystonia-foundation.org
Massage practitioners are becoming more and more common. However, please note it is very important that you consult with your consultant specialising in dystonia before undertaking any treatments.