What is Polio?

Polio is an acute, viral, infectious disease, which can enter the body via the nose or mouth and develops in the throat and intestine. The virus can spread further into the body invading the nervous system, leading to damage or destruction of motor nerve cells, which are responsible for the control of muscle motion.

Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS)

While polio is essentially a disease of the past, an increasing number of people who have had polio are developing a condition called post-polio syndrome (PPS). PPS is a condition that can cause a variety of symptoms, including pain, muscle weakness and fatigue.

Only people who have had polio can develop PPS, but it’s not known exactly how many polio survivors are affected. Estimates vary from as low as 25% of those who have had polio to as high as 80%.

PPS takes decades to develop after the initial polio infection, taking an average of 30 years for symptoms to become noticeable.

The symptoms of PPS usually develop gradually and can include:

  • continuing muscle and joint weakness
  • muscle pain that gets worse
  • becoming easily exhausted or fatigued
  • muscle wasting, also called muscle atrophy
  • trouble breathing and/or swallowing
  • sleep related breathing problems (sleep apnea)

Causes of PPS

The main theory is that it may be caused by the gradual deterioration of nerve cells in the spinal cord (motor neurons), which were damaged by the polio virus during a previous infection.

Motor neuron cells are used by your brain to send signals to your muscles. These cells are targeted by the polio virus.

A polio infection can damage motor neuron cells, leading to a shortage of motor neurons. To compensate for this shortage, the body will enlarge the remaining motor neurons, leading to a recovery of movement in the affected limbs.

It is thought that excessive prolonged use of these enlarged motor neurons may weaken them and the cells may start to break down over the course of many years. This is thought to lead to the muscle weakness, muscle wasting and fatigue associated with PPS.

Common foot problems associated with Polio and Post-Polio Syndrome are:

  • Pes cavus foot: This refers to a foot with a high arch, which tends to be fairly rigid. A normal foot is more flexible and can better handle the stress and pressure of walking.
  • Biomechanical issues
  • Pain in the ball of the foot (metatarsalgia)
  • Muscle atrophy: Polio can cause the muscles to become weak and not function properly. A common manifestation of this in the foot is a condition sometimes referred to as “drop foot” where there is little muscle control in the foot and it tends to be in a position where it “drops” off at the ankle. This can often be a cause of falling; because of the lack of muscle control in the foot it tends to drag along the ground and it becomes easy to trip and fall.
  • Loss of sensation. This is fairly rare, but in more severe cases of polio there can be a loss of sensation in the feet.
  • Toe deformities: The most common toe deformity seen in people with PPS is hammertoes. This means that instead of being straight, the toes are permanently bent, so that they sort of resemble the head of a hammer.
  • Leg length discrepancy: Having polio on only one side can also cause one leg to be shorter than the other.

Most of the above symptoms can be treated with the use of custom made orthotics to provide stability, support and shock absorbency.

However patients, who suffer from “drop foot”, would benefit with the use of Richie Brace Ankle Foot Orthotic (AFO). The Purpose of the AFO device is to provide the correct range of motion between the foot and ankle during gait. The device fits well into most forms of lace-up footwear, including athletic shoes. The brace is light-weight and far more cosmetically appealing than the traditional ankle foot orthoses.

Please do not hesitate to contact The Footcare Centre to book a consultation with one of the podiatrists if you have this condition and would like more information on 01932 849373 or booking online.

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