Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), also known as hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy is a group of inherited disorders of the peripheral nervous system. This condition is characterized by the progressive loss of muscles tissue and sensation across parts of the body. There is no known cure for CMT; however it progresses slowly and it has not shown any signs that it reduces the life expectancy of those diagnosed.
What is CMT?
CMT is one of the most common inherited neurological disorders affecting approximately 125,000 people in the United States, alone. At one time, CMT was classified as a type of muscular dystrophy. Unlike the name might indicate CMT actually has no relationship to the health or management of your teeth. CMT impacts the feet with what is known as foot drop and clawed toe. This condition is extremely painful and can also result in the loss of sensation in the legs and feet. Typically, CMT doesn’t impact the arms or hands until a later term in the disease. When faced with an incurable condition, it is important to know all of your treatment options for properly managing pain.
The first thing to know when treating CMT is to always consult a licensed physician and create an appropriate plan under their care. This is to ensure that you are not doing or taking anything that will be counter-productive or even harmful to you in the process of easing pain. There is no single way or “right” way to treat and manage CMT symptoms, with each person the needs and symptoms may vary. At no point should your treatment plan actually cause you additional pain or discomfort, should this happen consult your physician immediately!
One treatment method may be medication. Many, but not all CMT sufferers experience pain, but if you do, your physician may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers or stronger prescription strength pain pills if your pain is more severe.
Several different therapy options are also available, most commonly used are physical therapy, occupational therapy, and the use of orthopedic devices. Physical therapy is used to stretch and strengthen muscles in order to prevent or reduce muscle loss and tension. A prescribed physical therapy program would include low-impact exercises and stretching activities. This is not you simply hitting the gym and lifting weights. This is a doctor prescribed program performed under the supervision or assistance of a trained physical therapist. Physical therapy has shown the best results when started early on and performed consistently. The strengthening and stretching activities involved in physical therapy are very important in slowing the deterioration of nerves and muscle weakness that accompany this condition.
Occupational Therapy may be suggested if you have lost sensation making it difficult to grasp small objects such as buttoning a shirt or picking up a pencil to write. This type of therapy will help to redevelop those fine motor skills or introduce an assistive device to help you complete routine activities, such as zipping your pants, which has become difficult as a result of CMT symptoms. Occupational therapy also requires the recommendation or a prescription from a physician and is performed with the assistance of a licensed occupational therapist.
Your doctor could recommend the use of an orthopedic device. Orthopedic devices are used to help mobility and alleviate some discomfort found in performing day-to-day tasks. There are a variety of orthopedic devices available, but those most commonly used with CMT sufferers are braces and custom-made shoes. Leg and ankle braces are used to provide more stability when walking or climbing stairs. Custom-made shoes would be used in order to improve your step and provide additional ankle support when moving around. These devices have shown tremendous success, especially when used early on and worn consistently before too much muscle weakness can occur. The idea behind using these devices is to allow you to complete your normal daily routine with more comfort.
Surgery is an extreme worse-case scenario. Surgery would only be suggested or even recommended if the deformities to the foot have become so severe that your ability to walk is impaired. This surgical procedure would only work to alleviate pain, improve mobility, and return positioning to normal; however, any muscle or sensation loss will not be able to be repaired through surgery.