Have you taken the “Ice Bucket Challenge” for ALS? This social media challenge has raised unprecedented funds for the ALS Association. Participants are “challenged” by someone they know to either dump a bucket of ice water onto their heads or donate $100 in the fight against ALS. Many participants do both. The campaign is raising an “outpouring” of awareness and funds for this devastating disease.

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal chord. As it progresses, motor neurons degenerate and eventually die. When that happens, the brain can no longer control movement in the muscles. Early symptoms include muscle weakness and stiffness. Later symptoms include muscle weakness, muscle wasting, and paralysis. Speaking, swallowing, and breathing become increasing challenging and eventually stop. ALS is known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the famous baseball player who had to retire from the disease in 1939.

For healthy individuals, exercise is important for both body and mind. This can also be true for people with ALS, though exercise must be highly supervised by doctors and physical therapists.

The MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) offers an exercise guide for people living with ALS. The MDA reports little research has been done on the relationship between exercise and ALS, including whether or not exercise can increase strength in the muscles. However, the MDA says it’s generally accepted that specific kinds of exercise can:

  • Prevent painful contractures (permanent muscle tightening)
  • Reduce spasticity (muscle tightness or spasms)

The MDA says recommended exercises include:

  • Range-of-motion
  • Stretching
  • Cardio conditioning (only when doctor recommended)
  • Strengthening (only when doctor recommended)

The level and focus of exercise changes as ALS progresses. Doctors and therapists must be involved because pushing already weakened muscles too hard can do more harm than good.

Ready to take the #IceBucketChallenge? We challenge you!

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