Ataxia is a term used to describe in-coordination of movement or lack of order during movement. Ataxia affects the accuracy of movement. The movement becomes jerky and inaccurate. There maybe a delay in the contraction and relaxation of muscles affecting the timing, speed and precision of movement. A simple task such as lifting a cup, brushing your hair, putting on your shoes can become a challenge.
Ataxia is usually associated with damage to a particular part of the brain called the cerebellum. The cerebellum lies at the back of the brain. It is the centre of coordination and is highly involved in the control of coordinated muscle activity.
Damage to the cerebellum will give rise to Cerebellar Ataxia
Disruption of neural connections coming to the cerebellum causes Sensory Ataxia.
Ataxia may also be symptom present in a number of neurological conditions such as stroke and multiple sclerosis. The type and severity of symptoms will relate to the site and extent of injury.
Symptoms of Ataxia
Ataxia can affect muscles in the arms, legs or trunk.
Trunk ataxia will affect our abdominal or core stability and interfere with any activities that require good balance control such as reaching, stepping, walking.
The person with ataxia may present with the following:
- Slurred and explosive speech,
- Staggering and uncontrolled walking pattern. A wide based walking pattern is often adopted to provide greater stability.
- In-coordination of arm activity makes it difficult to use a knife and fork, drink, do buttons or zips and writing may become scrawly.
- Disturbances of eye movements can affect focus and balance control.
- Deficits in sensation and body awareness can have a profound effect on hand dexterity, balance and walking pattern.
- While muscle power may remain unaffected fatigue in the affected limbs can affect endurance.
Treatment of Ataxia
Physiotherapy: The focus of Physiotherapy is to address the primary symptoms of ataxia. Through our handling skills and experience in exercise prescription we aim to facilitate better timing and coordination during movement.
Ataxia gives the feeling of unsteadiness so that fear of falling or having a fall can greatly reduce confidence. A person may adopt strategies to reduce their risk of losing balance. Sometimes these strategies can prevent the person from retaining independence. Physiotherapy will help the person to be as balanced as possible and move to the best of their ability thereby preserving independence. The physiotherapist is also experienced in giving advice on aids and appliances that can preserve independence.