Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Services

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2022 | Last updated: April 2022

In most cases, increasing disability occurs with each attack of neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMO). The outcome and progression of NMO is highly variable. Your doctor will guide you on the drugs needed to help prevent attacks of NMO. Therapy options and rehabilitation (rehab) services are used to manage the disabling effects from the disease.1

Therapy options for NMO will depend on your needs. The focus of rehab services for NMO is helping you maintain or regain everyday functioning. Rehab services can be a valuable option for you while living with the symptoms of NMO.1

What is rehab therapy?

The goal of rehab is to improve and maintain function. Rehab therapy includes a wide variety of specialties:2

Physical therapy (PT)

Physical therapy (PT) is focused on improving movement. A physical therapist can design an exercise program just for you. In most cases, PT focuses on improving posture and joint mobility, and slowing down muscle weakness. Physical therapists can also suggest mobility devices and assistive equipment.1-3

If you have problems with your bladder or bowels, a physical therapist may be able to help. If you have bladder or bowel problems, improving strength and muscle tone may reduce your issues.1

Occupational therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy (OT) is focused on increasing independence in daily activities. For example, an occupational therapist can help people with writing, using a computer, and dressing themselves. Occupational therapists can also:1-3

  • Suggest devices and changes to improve access at home, work, and in school. Examples include mechanical lifts or resizing doors for wheelchair access.
  • Work with schools to provide options, such as elevator access, seating, and wheelchair access
  • Suggest ways to conserve energy

Speech and language therapy

When NMO has affected your ability to speak or eat, a speech therapist can recommend:4,5

  • Breathing exercises to strengthen the muscles that control your voice
  • Vocal exercises to improve your ability to speak clearly
  • Techniques to say words so you are better understood
  • Diet changes that make it easier to swallow and chew
  • Swallowing and breathing exercises to help you eat without choking
  • Ways to rest your voice

Rehab team members

Along with your physical, occupational, and speech therapists, other rehab team members may include:2,6,7

  • Neuropsychologists – These are neurologists who specialize in the relationships between the brain and behavior. These doctors focus on how NMO might impact behavior.
  • Physiatrists – These are doctors who treat a wide variety of conditions. They focus on functional rehab – getting you back to doing your daily activities.
  • Rehab nurses – These nurses are usually the coordinators of care.

You may have other professionals working with you for functional rehab.

Therapy and NMO attacks

The course of NMO is unpredictable. You may have long periods of time with few or no problems, followed by an attack with new or worsening symptoms. Progression of disability may move quickly or plateau for a time. Your rehab team can help you regain functional ability after a relapse or increase in disability.1,2

Why is rehab therapy important for NMO?

Rehab therapy can help you regain and maintain your independence. This can help you reduce your chances of disability over time.1,2

This team of professionals works together with 1 common goal in mind: keeping you as independent as possible and helping you live the best life possible on your journey with NMO.2

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