Massage for Muscular Dystrophies

A muscular dystrophy is a group of diseases that cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. In muscular dystrophy, abnormal genes (mutations) interfere with the production of proteins needed to form healthy muscle. There are many kinds of muscular dystrophy. Symptoms of the most common variety begin in childhood, mostly in boys. Other types don’t surface until adulthood. There’s no cure for muscular dystrophy. But medications and therapy can help manage symptoms and slow the course of the disease.  

Can muscular dystrophy be cured?
Although there’s no cure for any form of muscular dystrophy, treatment for some forms of the disease can help extend the time a person with the disease can remain mobile and help with heart and lung muscle strength. Trials of new therapies are ongoing.




The main sign of muscular dystrophy is progressive muscle weakness. Specific signs and symptoms begin at different ages and in different muscle groups, depending on the type of muscular dystrophy.

Duchenne type muscular dystrophy

This is the most common form. Although girls can be carriers and are mildly affected, it’s much more common in boys. Signs and symptoms, which typically appear in early childhood, might include:

  • Frequent falls
  • Difficulty rising from a lying or sitting position
  • Trouble running and jumping
  • Waddling gait
  • Walking on the toes
  • Large calf muscles
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Learning disabilities
  • Delayed growth

Becker muscular dystrophy

Signs and symptoms are similar to those of Duchenne muscular dystrophy but tend to be milder and progress more slowly. Symptoms generally begin in the teens but might not occur until the mid-20s or later.

Other types of muscular dystrophy

Some types of muscular dystrophy are defined by a specific feature or by where in the body symptoms begin. Examples include:

  • Myotonic. This is characterized by an inability to relax muscles following contractions. Facial and neck muscles are usually the first to be affected. People with this form typically have long, thin faces; drooping eyelids; and swanlike necks.
  • Facioscapulohumeral (FSHD). Muscle weakness typically begins in the face, hip, and shoulders. The shoulder blades might stick out like wings when arms are raised. Onset usually occurs in the teenage years but can begin in childhood or as late as age 50.
  • Congenital. This type affects boys and girls and is apparent at birth or before age 2. Some forms progress slowly and cause only mild disability, while others progress rapidly and cause severe impairment.
  • Limb-girdle. Hip and shoulder muscles are usually affected first. People with this type of muscular dystrophy might have difficulty lifting the front part of the foot and so might trip frequently. Onset usually begins in childhood or the teenage years.

When to see a doctor

Seek medical advice if you notice signs of muscle weakness — such as increased clumsiness and falling — in you or your child.


Certain genes are involved in making proteins that protect muscle fibers. Muscular dystrophy occurs when one of these genes is defective. Each form of muscular dystrophy is caused by a genetic mutation particular to that type of disease. Most of these mutations are inherited.

What causes muscular dystrophies?
What causes muscular dystrophy? Genetic mutations, or changes, cause most forms of muscular dystrophy. One or both parents may pass a faulty gene to their child even if the parent doesn’t have the condition. Rarely, a person develops muscular dystrophy spontaneously, meaning there’s no known cause.

Risk factors

Muscular dystrophy occurs in both sexes and in all ages and races. However, the most common variety, Duchenne, usually occurs in young boys. People with a family history of muscular dystrophy are at higher risk of developing the disease or passing it on to their children.


The complications of progressive muscle weakness include:

  • Trouble walking. Some people with muscular dystrophy eventually need to use a wheelchair.
  • Trouble using arms. Daily activities can become more difficult if the muscles of the arms and shoulders are affected.
  • Shortening of muscles or tendons around joints (contractures). Contractures can further limit mobility.
  • Breathing problems. Progressive weakness can affect the muscles associated with breathing. People with muscular dystrophy might eventually need to use a breathing assistance device (ventilator), initially at night but possibly also during the day.
  • Curved spine (scoliosis). Weakened muscles might be unable to hold the spine straight.
  • Heart problems. Muscular dystrophy can reduce the efficiency of the heart muscle.
  • Swallowing problems. If the muscles involved with swallowing are affected, nutritional problems and aspiration pneumonia can develop. Feeding tubes might be an option.
What is muscular dystrophy in simple terms?
A muscular dystrophy is a group of diseases that cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. In muscular dystrophy, abnormal genes (mutations) interfere with the production of proteins needed to form healthy muscle. There are many kinds of muscular dystrophy.
What are usually the first signs of muscular dystrophy?
Children with Duchenne MD usually start to have noticeable symptoms between 1 and 3 years of age. The muscles around their pelvis and thighs tend to be affected first and often appear bulkier than normal. A child with Duchenne MD may: have difficulty walking, running, or jumping.
How many muscular dystrophies are there?
There are 9 types of muscular dystrophy, with each type involving an eventual loss of strength, increasing disability, and possible deformity. The most well-known of the muscular dystrophies is Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), followed by Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD).
Can you get muscular dystrophy in your 60s?
It can affect anyone from teenagers to adults in their 40s. Distal muscular dystrophy affects the muscles of the arms, legs, hands, and feet. It usually comes on later in life, between ages 40 and 60. Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy starts in a person’s 40s or 50s.
How long do people with muscular dystrophy live?
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the most common type of muscular dystrophy. Life expectancy with this type is around the ages of 16 to the early 20s. Becker muscular dystrophy has a higher life expectancy, usually in the 30s. Some muscular dystrophies are highly variable, such as congenital, Emery-Dreifuss, and myotonic.
What are the signs of muscular dystrophy in adults?
General Muscular Dystrophy Symptoms
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Difficulty walking.
  • Frequent falling.
  • Difficulty getting up from a lying or sitting position.
  • Limited movement at certain joints (called contracture)
  • Heart problems.
  • Problems with breathing and swallowing.
  • Muscle pain or stiffness.
What disease eats your muscles?
Myositis (my-o-SY-tis) is a rare type of autoimmune disease that inflames and weakens muscle fibers. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s own immune system attacks itself.
How do you know if you have myopathy?
The common symptoms of myopathy are muscle weakness, impaired function in activities of daily life, and, rarely, muscle pain and tenderness. Significant muscle pain and tenderness without weakness should prompt consideration of other causes.
What is the difference between muscular dystrophy and ALS?
ALS is a rapidly progressive and fatal neuromuscular disease. MS is scarring and hardening of the sheath around the nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. MD is a muscular disorder with specific kinds of MD involving different muscles in the body. MD is almost exclusively hereditary.
How old is the oldest person with muscular dystrophy?
The oldest DMD patient he knows is a 54-year-old man in the Netherlands, who had two brothers with Duchenne; one died at 15, the other at 41. “I know quite a few older people with Duchenne who have all sorts of different mutations,”.
Is muscular dystrophy painful?
Many people living with Duchenne complain of pain. In a recent study of 55 patients aged 12-18 years old living with Duchenne or spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), 55% complained of mild/moderate, persistent, or chronic pain.
Do females get muscular dystrophy?
Duchenne muscular dystrophy usually affects males. However, females are also affected in rare instances. Approximately 8% of female Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) carriers are manifesting carriers and have muscle weakness to some extent.
What is the rarest type of muscular dystrophy?
Fukuyama type congenital muscular dystrophy (FCMD) is one of several forms of a rare type of muscular dystrophy known as congenital muscular dystrophy. It is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait.
Is Duchenne muscular dystrophy fatal?
DMD is a fatal condition. Most individuals with DMD pass away during their 20s. However, with diligent care, some people with DMD survive into their 30s. In the later stages of the disease, most people with DMD will need full-time care to maintain their quality of life.
Can a man with muscular dystrophy have a baby?
Carriers may not have any disease symptoms but can have a child with the mutation or the disease. DMD carriers are at risk for cardiomyopathy. Although DMD often runs in a family, it is possible for a family with no history of DMD to suddenly have a son with the disease.
What are the stages of muscular dystrophy?
What are the 5 general stages in Duchenne?
  • Diagnosis (infancy/childhood)
  • Early ambulatory (childhood)
  • Late ambulatory (late childhood/adolescent/young adult)
  • Early non-ambulatory (adolescent/young adult)
  • Late non-ambulatory (adult)
How do you detect muscular dystrophy?
Muscular dystrophy (MD) is diagnosed through a physical exam, a family medical history, and tests.

These might include:
  1. A muscle biopsy (the removal and exam of a small sample of muscle tissue)
  2. DNA (genetic) testing.
  3. Electromyography or nerve conduction tests (which use electrodes to test muscle and/or nerve function)
What disease is similar to muscular dystrophy?
The diseases most frequently mistaken for muscular dystrophy were polymyositis and the syndrome of “benign hypotonia.” Polymyositis, with its protean manifestations and variable course, may mimic all of the forms of muscular dystrophy so closely that differentiation becomes especially difficult.
What famous person has muscular dystrophy?
Fashion model, actress, and activist Jillian Mercado, who lives with spastic muscular dystrophy, gave her expert fashion advice to help actor and singer Jack Black with a wardrobe update.
What is the mortality rate of muscular dystrophy?
The overall age-adjusted MD-associated mortality rate was 0.347 per 100,000 persons per year. The mortality rate was 0.523 for males, 0.182 for females, 0.220 for blacks, and 0.374 for whites.
How does muscular dystrophy affect a person’s daily life?
However, for the most part, progressive muscle weakness caused by muscular dystrophy can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to do daily activities. Mobility may be very limited, and a person may have to rely on assistive devices like walkers or wheelchairs in order to get around.
What part of the body does muscular dystrophy affect?
Muscles around the eyes and mouth are often affected first, followed by weakness around the shoulders, chest, and upper arms. A particular pattern of muscle wasting causes the shoulders to appear to be slanted and the shoulder blades to appear winged. Muscles in the lower extremities may also become weakened.
Who is most affected by muscular dystrophy?
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by a genetic problem in producing dystrophin, a protein that protects muscle fibers from breaking down when exposed to enzymes. Duchenne muscular dystrophy mostly affects boys and occurs in one in 3,500 to 5,000 newborns. There is no higher risk for any ethnic group.
Which parent carries the muscular dystrophy gene?
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is inherited in an X-linked recessive pattern. Males have only one copy of the X chromosome from their mother and one copy of the Y chromosome from their father. If their X chromosome has a DMD gene mutation, they will have Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
How quickly does muscular dystrophy progress?
Most types of muscular dystrophy progress relatively slowly over the years, eventually causing joint and muscle problems and potentially leading to a loss of mobility. In those cases, however, there are treatments like physical therapy and medications that may slow the progress of these symptoms.
Why are calves enlarged in Duchenne muscular dystrophy?
It is also common for boys with DMD to have enlarged calves. This is due to scar tissue build-up in muscles, and muscle tissue is replaced by fat and connective tissue. Once boys with DMD do begin to walk, their movements may seem awkward. And they may walk on their toes or have a waddle-like gait.
When do the first symptoms of Duchenne muscular dystrophy appear?

It usually starts when a child is between ages 2 and 5. Symptoms of Duchenne muscular dystrophy include Muscle weakness that begins in the hips, pelvis, and legs. Difficulty standing.
Can muscular dystrophy be prevented?
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do to prevent getting muscular dystrophy. If you have the disease, these steps can help you enjoy a better quality of life: Eat a healthy diet to prevent malnutrition.
Type Age at onset Symptoms, rate of progression, and life expectancy
Becker adolescence to early adulthood Symptoms are almost identical to Duchenne but less severe; progresses more slowly than Duchenne; survival into middle age. As with Duchenne, the disease is almost always limited to males.
Congenital birth Symptoms include general muscle weakness and possible joint deformities; disease progresses slowly; shortened life span.
Duchenne 2 to 6 years Symptoms include general muscle weakness and wasting; which affects the pelvis, upper arms, and upper legs; eventually involves all voluntary muscles; survival beyond the 20s is rare. Seen in boys only. Very rarely can affect women, who have much milder symptoms and a better prognosis.
Distal 40 to 60 years Symptoms include weakness and wasting of muscles of the hands, forearms, and lower legs; progression is slow; rarely leads to total incapacity.
Emery-Dreifuss childhood to early teens Symptoms include weakness and wasting of shoulder, upper arm, and shin muscles; joint deformities are common; progression is slow; sudden death may occur from cardiac problems.
Facioscapulohumeral childhood to early adults Symptoms include facial muscle weakness and weakness with some wasting of shoulders and upper arms; progression is slow with periods of rapid deterioration; life span may be many decades after onset.
Limb-Girdle late childhood to middle age Symptoms include weakness and wasting, affecting the shoulder girdle and pelvic girdle first; progression is slow; death is usually due to cardiopulmonary complications.
Myotonic 20 to 40 years Symptoms include weakness of all muscle groups accompanied by delayed relaxation of muscles after contraction; affects the face, feet, hands, and neck first; progression is slow, sometimes spanning 50 to 60 years.
Oculopharyngeal 40 to 70 years

Symptoms affect the muscles of the eyelids and throat causing the weakening of throat muscles, which, in time, causes the inability to swallow and emaciation from lack of food; progression is slow.


What are other neuromuscular diseases?

  • Spinal muscular atrophies
    • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or motor neuron disease
    • Infantile progressive spinal muscular atrophy
    • Intermediate spinal muscular atrophy
    • Juvenile spinal muscular atrophy
    • Adult spinal muscular atrophy
  • Inflammatory myopathies
    • Dermatomyositis
    • Polymyositis
    • Inclusion body myositis
  • Diseases of peripheral nerve
    • Charcot-Marie Tooth disease
    • Dejerine-Sottas disease
    • Friedreich’s ataxia
  • Diseases of the neuromuscular junction
    • Myasthenia gravis
    • Lambert-Eaton syndrome
    • Botulism
  • Metabolic diseases of the muscle
    • Acid maltase deficiency
    • Carnitine deficiency
    • Carnitine palmityl transferase deficiency
    • Debrancher enzyme deficiency
    • Lactate dehydrogenase deficiency
    • Mitochondrial myopathy
    • Myoadenylate deaminase deficiency
    • Phosphorylase deficiency
    • Phosphofructokinase deficiency
    • Phosphoglycerate kinase deficiency
  • Less common myopathies
    • Central core disease
    • Hyperthyroid myopathy
    • Myotonia congenita
    • Myotubular myopathy
    • Nemaline myopathy
    • Paramyotonia congenita
    • Periodic paralysis-hypokalemic-hyperkalemic


Massage Therapy Can Ease Symptoms of Muscular Dystrophy

How does massage benefit the muscular system?
The muscular system: Massage movements may relax and stretch muscles, reducing muscular tension and cramp. Massage also makes muscles more flexible by reducing muscle tone. Muscles tired by exercise are more quickly restored by massage than by rest.
Does massage improve muscle tone?
Massage stretches muscle fibers and promotes flexibility. With consistent massage therapy, both ranges of motion and muscle flexibility improve. When the body moves properly, an athlete can run more efficiently. Additionally, massage improves muscle tone by mechanically stimulating the reflexes within the muscle.
Is massage contraindicated for muscular dystrophy?
Implications for RehabilitationIn a small sample of boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, calf massage was found to be safe, well-tolerated, and associated with increased muscle length and decreased stiffness. The use of massage may assist in managing muscle length in boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Is massage good for muscle fatigue?
Increase Energy By Reducing Pain
Studies have shown that massage therapy can reduce pain and fatigue both from illness and muscle use.
What is the main benefit of therapeutic massage?
One of the immediate benefits of massage is a feeling of deep relaxation and calm. This occurs because massage prompts the release of endorphins – the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that produce feelings of wellbeing. Levels of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, cortisol, and norepinephrine, are also reduced.
Does massage decrease muscle mass?
Many people — both athletes and health & wellness professionals – have seen massage as an integral part of the training process. Massage soothes inflammation, increases blood flow and reduces muscle tightness after a workout.
What happens when a muscle atrophies?
Muscle atrophy is the wasting or thinning of muscle mass. It can be caused by disuse of your muscles or neurogenic conditions. Symptoms include a decrease in muscle mass, one limb being smaller than the other, and numbness, weakness, and tingling in your limbs.
What are the 5 benefits of massage?
  • Massage reduces muscle pain and soreness. …
  • Massage relieves stress and anxiety. …
  • Massage can help you sleep better. …
  • Massage can improve your immune function. …
  • Massage can increase your flexibility and range of motion.
What are the benefits of a deep tissue massage?
  • Stress Relief. Deep tissue massage is a great stress reliever. …
  • Reduces Pain. …
  • Lowers Blood Pressure and Heart Rate. …
  • Breaks Up Scar Tissue & Makes Movement Easier. …
  • Reduces Arthritis Symptoms. …
  • Rehabilitates Injured Muscles. …
  • Helps With Labor and Delivery.
  • PLUS-
  • 1) Manage anxiety and depression. Massage therapy reduces your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and boosts the production of serotonin and dopamine. …
  • 2) Ease pain. …
  • 3) Improve sleep. …
  • 4) Boost immunity. …
  • 5) Beat PMS. …
  • 6) Raise alertness. …
  • 7) Stop headaches. …
  • 8) Prolong your youthful glow.


In general, those who choose massage therapy as a profession share a genuine desire to help people. Wanting to help others is the cornerstone of compassion, defined by as “deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” When it comes to relieving the suffering caused by muscular dystrophy, massage therapists have the opportunity of a lifetime.

Describing over 30 genetic diseases characterized by progressive weakness and skeletal muscle degeneration, muscular dystrophy (MD) can occur in infancy, childhood, or adulthood. The disorders differ in terms of the distribution and extent of muscle weakness, age of onset, rate of progression, and pattern of inheritance.

The primary types of MD include:

Duchenne – This is the most common form of MD and primarily affects boys. It is caused by the absence of dystrophin, a protein involved in maintaining the integrity of muscle. Onset is between 3 and 5 years and the disorder progresses rapidly. Most boys are unable to walk by age 12, and later need a respirator to breathe.
Becker–Becker MD is very similar to but less severe than Duchenne MD. Those afflicted with Becker MD have faulty or not enough dystrophin. This form generally affects older boys and young men, and progresses more slowly, usually over several decades.
Facioscapulohumeral – Also known as Landouzy-Dejerine disease, this form of MD usually begins in the teenage years. It causes progressive weakness in muscles of the face, arms, legs, shoulders, and chest. It progresses slowly and can vary in symptoms from mild to disabling.
Myotonic – Also known as Steinert’s disease, this MD is the most common adult form and is typified by prolonged muscle spasms, cataracts, cardiac abnormalities, and endocrine disturbances. Individuals with myotonic MD typically exhibit long, thin faces, drooping eyelids, and a swan-like neck.
Both the Duchenne and Becker forms of MD revolve around a problem with, or the absence of, the protein dystrophin. Dystrophin is necessary for normal muscle tissue function. Here is a quick refresher to help place dystrophin’s role in muscle physiology. Myosin, the muscle’s thick filament, pulls on actin, the thin filament, by swiveling its head. This causes the actin to slide towards the M line, (the center of the muscle’s sarcomere), shortening the muscle. Dystrophin has many spider-like links to actin, attaching actin to the endomysium (part of the muscle’s tendon). Therefore, when actin slides towards the M line, the dystrophin pulls on the bone-surrounding endomysium, which ultimately creates movement. Therefore, a deficiency or lack of dystrophin has devastating effects on muscle movement, control, and health.

Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms vary according to the type of muscular dystrophy. Typical symptoms include:

Muscle weakness
Lack of coordination
Progressive crippling
Involuntary muscle contractions
Loss of mobility
Many specific signs and symptoms vary among the different forms of MD. Each type is different in the age of onset, what parts of the body the symptoms primarily affect and how rapidly the disease progresses. For example, signs and symptoms unique to Duchenne MD may include:

Frequent falls
Large calf muscles
Difficulty getting up from a lying or sitting position
Weakness in lower leg muscles, resulting in difficulty with running and jumping
Waddling gait
Mild mental retardation (in some cases)
There is no specific treatment to stop or reverse any form of MD. Treatment plans are designed to help prevent or reduce deformities in the joints and spine and to allow people with MD to remain mobile as long as possible. While not curative, typical treatment approaches utilize medications, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, speech therapy, orthopedic appliances used for support, and corrective orthopedic surgery. Drug therapy includes corticosteroids to slow muscle degeneration, anticonvulsants to control seizures and muscle activity, immunosuppressants to delay damage to dying muscle cells, and antibiotics to fight respiratory infections.

A host of alternative treatments are often turned to for periodic, symptomatic relief for muscular dystrophy. In particular, massage therapy has been reported to ease a wide range of MD symptoms including:

Relieving muscle pain
Relaxing tight or contracted muscles
Increasing circulation in a deprived area
Restoring some range of motion
Since the goal of all bodywork is analogous to its application for muscular dystrophy, it almost appears massage is designed specifically for MD’s symptoms. While never intended to replace or supersede a physician’s advice, adding regular massage therapy sessions to an MD management plan can help reduce spasms, ease chronically tightened muscles, and improve the person’s quality of life. By seeking to help those with muscular dystrophy, a practitioner’s compassion can go a long, long way.

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*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 a diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader. These statements are not expressions of legal opinion relative to the scope of practice, medical diagnosis, or medical advice, nor do they represent an endorsement of any product, company, or specific massage therapy technique, modality, or approach. All trademarks, registered trademarks, brand names, registered brand names, logos, and company logos referenced in this post are the property of their owners.