While there is no known cure for the disease, there are several different types of muscular dystrophy therapy that can help improve a patient's quality of life. Physical therapy is typically an important part of treatment necessary to maintain range of motion, though sometimes surgery becomes necessary if joints become severely contracted. Certain types of muscular dystrophy respond well to drug therapy. Braces and other supportive devices like wheelchairs may be necessary for certain patients. Both occupational therapy and speech therapy are often used to help patients adapt to the physical limitations associated with their condition.
One of the issues many patients with muscular dystrophy face is painful contractures of their joints as their muscles degenerate and weaken; this is why physical therapy and regular exercise are usually an important part of muscular dystrophy therapy. Movements designed to stretch the muscles and joints and maintain flexibility are generally part of treatment. Other exercises may focus on maintaining as much muscle tone as possible. In cases where physical therapy is unsuccessful and the joints become too contracted, tendon surgery may be needed to provide relief.
Another type of muscular dystrophy therapy that helps some patients is treatment with medication. Some people experience muscle spasms that are slow to release, called myotonia, which may respond well to drugs such as phenytoin, mexiletine, and quinine. Corticosteroids such as prednisone and immunosuppressive drugs like cyclosporin and azathioprinemay may slow the progression of muscle tissue damage for patients with certain forms of the disease.
A wide range of assistive devices can be used as part of muscular dystrophy therapy for patients who have lost muscle strength and mobility. Braces can be used to support joints or limbs or to reduce limb contractures. Wheelchairs, walkers, or canes may be necessary for patients who have lost the ability to move around on their own. Pacemakers and ventilators may need to be used when patients suffer muscle damage in the heart or lungs.
As muscular dystrophy progresses, patients may need assistance with certain functions that become a challenge as their muscles weaken. Speech therapy can help some people overcome the difficulty with talking that muscular dystrophy often causes. Occupational therapy may be used to teach patients how to adapt their day-to-day activities so they can be accomplished while accommodating any physical limitations. This may include ways for patients to save energy, use special devices, or modify their environment so they remain active and independent.