Ataxia is a lack of motor (muscle coordination). Ataxia is usually caused by damage to the cerebellum.
The cerebellum is located in the back of the brain and is responsible for:
- Coordinating voluntary movement of the arms and legs
- Controlling postural muscles
- Fine motor
- Eye movement
- Coordinating the muscles used for speaking
What are the types of Ataxia?
Damage to the brain or spinal cord can cause ataxia. This is called acquired ataxia
Ataxia can also be the result of a faulty gene that causes degeneration of the brain and spinal cord. This is referred to as hereditary ataxia.
Idiopathic or Cerebellar Ataxia
Sometimes there is no known cause for ataxia. This type of ataxia is referred to as idiopathic ataxia or cerebellar ataxia
Acquired ataxia can have a wide range of potential causes including:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Bacterial brain infection (meningitis and/or encephalitis)
- Disruption in blood flow to the brain: stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Cerebral palsy – brain damage that occurs before, during, or shortly after birth.
- Multiple sclerosis
- Sustained long term alcohol misuse
- Underactive thyroid gland
- B12 deficiency
- Brain tumors
- Medications such as benzodiazepines
- Problems with coordination
- Balance problems
- Difficulty writing and/or picking up small objects
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Abnormal eye movement (nystagmus)
How is Ataxia Treated?
The treatment for ataxia will depend largely on the underlying cause. There are some medications that might help to lessen the severity of the symptoms. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy can significantly help to improve movement quality and reduce the impact that the movement problems may have on your life.
Occupational Therapy (OT) – An OT will help you to improve your fine motor skills including writing, buttoning, and picking up small objects (fine motor).
Speech Therapy (ST) – A speech therapist will work on improving coordination in the “speaking muscles”, and swallowing muscles.
Physical Therapy (PT) – PT will focus on retraining the entire balance system (the cerebellum plays a MAJOR role in the balance system). A physical therapist is also skilled in retraining the “quality” of arm and leg movement. This will involved working on the “smoothness” and accuracy of the movement. For example when reaching for an object with the arm or stepping the foot forward with walking. Additionally, PT will also provide exercises to strengthen the muscle that keep the trunk steady. This is critical in providing a stable base and will assist with the quality of arm and leg movement.
Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
Fear can be a crazy thing. And in some cases can be the root cause of spasticity. Yup, negative emotions can actually make spasticity worse. And in this case, I am going to lump situational fear and anxiety together. What I mean is that maybe you are walking really...
Turn steps are a critical part of walking without fear of falling. It is also a critical step in neurologic rehabilitation. To understand how to master a turn step it is good to understand all of the little movements that are involved: What movements are required for...
Many people inquire about the "best exercises" for stroke recovery to improve walking. I like to use the term "Drills" when referring to "stroke exercises". Why? Because "Drills" are what I think of when I think of repetitive movement. Case and point, drills are...
One of many problems when the neurologic system is damaged are ankle contractures. A contracture is where the soft tissue structures surrounding a joint shorten causing loss of movement. What Causes a Contracture? There are several factors that can lead to an ankle...
Balance (also known as postural stability) is dramatically impacted when there is damage to the neurologic system and can increase the fear of falling. It is the one ability most of us (adult humans) take for granted……..until it is gone. Lack of postural stability...
Balance training is a critical component for anyone with ataxia. This is due to the fact that ataxia negatively impacts the balance system and is one of the leading causes of disability. Ataxia is caused by damage to the cerebellum. The cerebellum plays a MAJOR role...
Circumduction is a “walking problem” that is characterized by the leg swinging out to the side. This is typically a compensatory strategy to prevent someone from catching the foot on the ground. Before we dive into what might be causing you to swing the leg around the...
Are you super eager to relearn to walk? Walking is a HUGE goal for anyone who has lost that ability. Walking means different things to different people. And quite honestly, has far less meaning until you have lost this fundamental skill. All that being said, it is...
How do you regain the ability to walk without fear of falling? Fear of falling is a MAJOR concern for a lot of people. In the early stages of rehabilitation, the goal is to regain movement control at the hip, knee, and ankle. This is necessary to ensure that someone...
A common goal after a stroke or a brain injury is to regain "normal walking". However, this goal is not limited to just those who have suffered a stroke. I dare say it is the number one goal of almost everyone who has suffered an injury to their neurologic system. ...