Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapy for Myasthenia Gravis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2021

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is an autoimmune condition that makes certain muscles go weak after use. This weakness usually gets better after the muscles are rested. Several medicines are available to treat this muscle weakness. However, drugs are only one of the ways to manage the problems that muscle weakness causes.

Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are specialized health services that help people with MG learn how to live better with what their bodies can do. Most people see a physical therapist or speech therapist once a week for a few weeks. After that, the person takes what they have learned and practices their exercises at home.1

Physical therapy for myasthenia gravis

A physical therapist (PT) is a movement expert. A physical therapist meets with a person to create an individual plan to help them move better, improve balance, get stronger, or become more flexible. Your doctor should be able to recommend a PT who specializes in working with people with MG.1,2

How a physical therapist can help

You may think of a physical therapist as someone who helps people relearn to walk after a stroke or improve muscle strength after a broken bone has healed. However, a PT can also help people with MG who are having trouble finding the energy to accomplish daily activities.

A physical therapist will help you manage MG using a variety of techniques such as:1

  • Posture and breathing exercises to improve breath control and strength, and how long you can speak, chew, and swallow
  • Tips for conserving your energy
  • Teaching you how to use assistive devices
  • Exercises to improve balance, flexibility, and strength
  • Tips for general home safety and to reduce falls

A PT can also give you an idea of what you should be able to do given your age and the severity of your MG, and create an exercise plan specific to your needs.

Occupational therapy for myasthenia gravis

An occupational therapist (OT) focuses on helping a person perform daily tasks more easily. An OT helps a person change their routines and home and work environment to better suit their new physical abilities. Physical and occupational therapists often work together to create a custom therapy plan for someone with MG.3

Speech therapy for myasthenia gravis

Changes to the voice, problems speaking or being understood, and problems swallowing or chewing are common in people with myasthenia gravis.

In fact, slurred speech (dysarthria) occurs in 1 in 10 people with MG. Dysphonia, or voice disorder, is even less common in people with MG. However, speech problems are important to treat. It can be hard to work or socialize if you cannot be heard or understood by those around you.4

A speech therapist (ST) diagnoses and treats speech, language, communication, swallowing, and eating problems.5

How a speech therapist can help

When myasthenia gravis has affected a person’s ability to speak or eat, a speech therapist can recommend:1

  • Breathing exercises to strengthen the muscles that control the voice
  • Vocal exercises to improve the ability to speak clearly
  • Techniques to pronounce words so you are better understood
  • Diet changes that make it easier to swallow and chew
  • Swallowing and breathing exercises to improve the ability to eat without choking
  • Ways to rest the voice
  • Suggestions for when to take MG drugs so that the greatest effects happen at mealtimes

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