Treating Sickle Cell Disease with Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy for Sickle Cell DiseaseSCD is a group of disorders of the hemoglobin which disproportionately affects the African-Americans and Hispanics in the U.S., where it is generally hereditary.  Characterized by distorted red cell molecules shaped like crescents/sickles, onset occurs in early childhood where symptoms are usually: anemia, restricted range of motion, shortness of breath, fatigue and delayed growth and development.  Jaundice, organ damage, pulmonary hypertension and even heart failure can occur in severe cases.  As the disease progresses, a common side-effect is extreme pain due to sickles becoming “stuck” in small blood vessels. The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA) has been the chief advocate for 41 years, to improve the quality of life for sufferers while seeking a cure.  As part of their awareness campaign, they have designated September as “National Sickle Cell Month”.

Physical therapy plays an essential role in the multidisciplinary management of SCD symptoms, particularly for ROM, balance, and airway clearance issues.  Fluidotherapy, massage therapy, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) all provide  some relief for symptoms.  A promising  study suggests that kinesiotherapy and warm aquatic therapy are effective in managing pain symptoms and increasing lung capacity.  The patient, who underwent aquatic therapy twice a week for 45 minutes over a period of five weeks, showed a marked decrease in pain, along with a marked improvement in quality of life.  The physiological changes induced by aquatic rehab include relaxed muscle tone, lower blood pressure, and increased blood circulation to the muscles and limbs. The latter results in healthier tissue and encourages the healing process.  Further samplings will be needed to affirm these conclusions, but aquatic rehabilitation is an accessible and affordable preventative method to more costly medical interventions.

Are you a PT interested in working with special populations or seeking a career change?  Contact Centra at 800 535 0076 and let us help you make the most of your talents.

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