ALS – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – Lou Gehrig’s Disease

(ALS), is a highly degenerative disease affecting the nervous system. ALS hinders the power of the brain to pass messages to the voluntary muscles as the muscle neurons start degenerating.

Lou Gehrig’s disease, otherwise known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a highly degenerative disease affecting the nervous system. ALS hinders the power of the brain to pass messages to the voluntary muscles as the muscle neurons start degenerating. Eventually the neurons completely die off causing the muscle groups to waste away.

ALS gained the name of Lou Gehrig’s disease due to Lou Gehrig, a professional baseball player that developed the illness in 1939 and passed away some two years later.

The explanation for this degenerative disease remains unknown, with theories that it is caused by an infection or virus, although it has still to be proven. There is a genetic component, but to date, only 5 in 10 instances are in fact inherited.

The Initial Phase and Symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Within the early phases, the patient may discover minor leg or arm weakness as the muscle mass begins to show signs of atrophy and ripples. This happens as the motor neurons are dying with the patient losing control over his muscles until he can no longer move them at all. They might also experience difficulties with speech and/or swallowing, along with cramping and muscle pain as common symptoms.  The body continues to waste but the patient’s cognitive abilities remain intact.

Lou Gehrig’s disease occurs 60% more in men than women, primarily affecting those males between the ages of 35 and 65. Approximately 50% of the individuals diagnosed with this illness live three years or more. Of the remaining, a further 20 % live another 5 years or more with about 10 % making it past the 10 year mark or more. The scientist Stephen Hawking still lives with the illness and has done so for many years. Being  a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death.

Massage Therapy & Other Treatments for ALS

As there is no known cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease, there is also no clearly defined treatment, although various treatments are used to minimize pain and suffering associated with the disease. A medication is being currently researched which will slow down the progression of ALS.

Therapeutic massage therapy is generally used in order to make patients more comfortable and minimize cramping and muscle pain. Gentle, passive massage and various ranges of motion prevent joints from becoming stiff. By increasing the blood supply into the muscle, therapeutic massage works to decelerate muscle atrophy and lower anxiety by lowering the quantity of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Should the patient’s muscle tissues be too atrophied to work on, then a simple hand, foot and scalp massage may help to make the individual with Lou Gehrig’s disease a great deal more comfortable.

In addition to easing pain, massage therapy may help increase mobility, minimize muscle pain and cramping, increase circulation and reduce anxiety. Massage can help the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of ALS clients.

Oftentimes, those with debilitating diseases do not receive enough touch as family and friends see them as fragile and are afraid of hurting them. Trained massage therapists can offer a caring touch.


Further Reading

The Power of Touch® for ALS


Educate Yourself: Massaging a Client with ALS

Pain in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Neglected Aspect of Disease

Healing Hands: Massage Therapy and ALS






*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader. All trademarks, registered trademarks, brand names, registered brand names, logos, and company logos referenced in this post are the property of their owners.

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