Post-polio syndrome, or PPS, is a condition that baffled the medical community until recently. Patients arrived at their doctors’ offices complaining of stiff and sluggish muscles, breathing difficulties, and an overwhelming sense of fatigue. Unable to trace the symptoms to other disease, eventually a link was made to the polio virus. It seems that survivors of polio can experience physical problems decades after their initial battle with the disease.
Symptoms of PPS can appear quietly, seemingly without cause. Sometimes physical or emotional trauma will trigger the symptoms. However they to choose to appear, here are the most common symptoms to watch out for:
–Muscle and joint pain
–Sensitivity to cold
–Sensitivity to medications
–Lack of endurance
Since the discovery of PPS, researchers have figured out what might actually be happening in the body. Inside your spinal cord are special cells called “anterior horn cells.” These cells are responsible for transmitting nerve impulses to your muscles. When someone contracts the polio virus, some of these cells are damaged and some are destroyed. The body tries to cope with this in an ingenious way: the uninjured horn cells increase their connections to muscle fibers by splitting nerve fibers. This is a great way to cope with a powerful virus, but unfortunately it’s not a great long-term solution. Over the course of many years, these overworked anterior horn cells begin to wear out. Each cell, after all, is performing the duties of the many cells destroyed by the polio virus. Eventually, the horn cells die. And this, in turn, means that your muscle cells won’t receive any nerve impulses, leaving you feeling tired and weak.
If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from PPS, first of all see your doctor. Next, you might be heartened to know that a combination of therapies administered together can greatly improve the quality of life of someone afflicted with PPS. Therapies that have proved beneficial in clinical trials include physiotherapy, massage therapy, aerobics, and hydrotherapy. In particular, hydrotherapy appears to be effective in restoring energy and movement to polio survivors.