What is the role of physical therapy in the treatment of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT)?

Updated: Jun 23, 2021
  • Author: Divakara Kedlaya, MBBS; Chief Editor: Elizabeth A Moberg-Wolff, MD  more...
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Daily heel-cord stretching exercises are desirable to prevent Achilles tendon shortening. Special shoes with good ankle support may be needed. Physical therapy can assist with ambulation and provide necessary evaluation and training with orthoses, such as an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO). [11, 70]

Patients often require an AFO to correct foot drop and to aid walking. [71] It is important to address the biomechanical needs of a CMT patient, since there may be bilateral strength differences due to progression of the disease. Optimizing the mechanical characteristics of the AFO to patient needs can be challenging. One strategy is to design AFOs of varying stiffness and allow patients to experience range energy storage and release characteristics prior to selecting the stiffness they prefer.

Patients with CMT discard AFOs because they highlight their disability, are not essential for their limited daily walking, and are uncomfortable. Prescription of AFOs should be accompanied with psychological support, noting that research of more comfortable and cosmetically acceptable solutions for the problem of footdrop in CMT is ongoing. [72]

Patients with CMT who regularly wore AFOs were more severely affected, had a slower maximum walking speed, higher energy cost of walking, and worse perceived walking ability. [73]

Custom carbon-fiber composite AFOs have been reported to improve gait of CMT patients [74] AFO prescription appears relevant for improving balance and gait performance in CMT patients, particularly when the model adequately compensates for specific muscle deficits. Custom polypropylene AFOs have shown to improve walking speed and gait parameters in patients with CMT. [75, 76]

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) units can be used to improve muscle functions in patients with CMT. [12]

Some patients require the use of forearm crutches or a cane for improved gait stability, but fewer than 5% of patients need wheelchairs. Advise patients with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) about weight management, because obesity makes ambulation more difficult. Encourage exercise within each individual patient's capability. [77] Most patients with CMT usually remain physically active.

A literature review by Sman et al suggested that even though studies have shown exercise-related strength and function changes in patients with CMT, these results should be considered cautiously since few such studies are available and their quality of evidence is only moderate. [78]

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