ALS: What It Is and How to Combat It
Updated: Oct 27
What is ALS? You may be wondering if you meet a family member, friend, or neighbor who introduces themselves as having it.
ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This is a nerve degeneration disease that slowly affects different muscle groups over time. It primarily targets nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord responsible for movement.
There is currently no known cure for ALS. Little is known about how to mitigate the progression of the disease, but there is reason to suppose that exercise can stave off some of the symptoms of ALS.
Treating ALS isn’t an exact science yet. Some doctors will recommend physical therapy, while others trust more in the abilities of medication. Medications aren’t always targeted toward the causes of ALS but help ease the symptoms of the disease. Likewise, ALS therapy — physical therapy — doesn’t address your neuron breakdown, just muscles.
If you suspect you may have ALS yourself, you should consult with your doctor. As good as the internet is, society is not quite to the point where we can accurately diagnose a disease without professionals.
What is ALS – a Brief Overview
ALS is a degenerative disease that only affects the nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord.
What is meant by degeneration? Degenerating cells are not harmful in the same way mutated cells are. Degenerate cells don’t become something more than themselves like cancer cells do. Degenerating cells become less than themselves.
The process of degeneration is very slow. Degeneration is sometimes related to cell injury. In these cases, the cell may stop performing its regular functions, may change its structure, or could be a combination of the two.
Most cases of ALS are sporadic. This means that the disease occurs seemingly at random with no prior indication of its existence. Some groups of people, notably soldered and athletes, seem to be more prone to have ALS, but the reasons as to why that has not been determined.
There are a few methods for testing for ALS. They include:
Nerve Conduction Study — A diagnosis that determines the health of your nerves by assessing their ability to send messages to your muscles.
Electromyography — A test that measures the electrical impulses in your muscles.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging — A type of imaging using magnetic fields to map your brain and spinal cord.
Muscle Biopsy — Using this method, a surgeon will remove a small sample of your muscle and send it to a lab where a close examination of the cells and nerves shows signs of damage from ALS.
The symptoms for many patients occur between the ages of 55 and 75 and manifest as muscle cramps or soreness. Unfortunately, ALS is a terminal disease. Each case progresses differently. Most cases have a life expectancy of two to five years, though some people have lived ten or more years with a positive diagnosis.
Can ALS be cured?
There is no known cure for ALS, but there are treatments that can lessen your symptoms and improve the quality of your life with the disease. There are only a few medications that act as a treatment for ALS; they are:
RELYVRIO — This drug was only recently approved by the FDA. It is specifically designed to address the underlying causes of ALS in slowing neuron degradation.
Radicava — Also known as edaravone, this drug helps filter out unstable molecules from your body that can damage your cells and hasten the progression of your disease.
Rilutek — This, and its generic version, riluzole, is used to block the release of glutamate, a natural acid our body produces that can potentially harm nerve cells.
Tiglutik — A liquid version of rilutek/riluzole.
Exservan — An oral film version of rilutek/riluzole that is administered as a soluble film on the tongue. This is optimal for patients who have trouble swallowing.
What ALS Therapy Can Slow ALS
A scientific study published by the neurology journal Neurology suggests that exercise, specifically resistance exercise, helps slow the deterioration of your muscles as ALS progresses.
If you are diagnosed with ALS, there is hope that you can improve your situation through regular resistance exercise and therapy.
Before exercising with ALS, be sure to know your limits. The goal of ALS therapy is not to build muscle. It is to keep the muscle you have from atrophying. Moderate-intensity exercise should be your goal. Pushing yourself too hard may do more harm than good.
Some good ALS therapies include:
Stretching — stretching exercises and yoga may be able to help keep your muscles from becoming too stiff.
Cycling — Riding a bike is an excellent way to keep many of your muscle groups active. You can bike at whatever intensity you feel you can handle.
Swimming — This is generally a good exercise all around, as it engages multiple muscle groups with gentle yet persistent resistance.
Weight Training — Gaining muscle isn’t the goal — maintaining it is. With gentle resistance exercises, you can keep your muscles active and delay atrophy and degradation.
Physical exercise helps keep your mind and body active. When it comes to diseases such as ALS, the most important thing to focus on is the overall health of your body.
Once symptoms begin to manifest, and a positive diagnosis is likely or has occurred, be sure to create and maintain a consistent regimen that will keep your muscles loose and moving.
These exercises will not cure your ALS, they can only help prevent the advancement of its symptoms. Where possible, you should work with your doctor to add medications and other medically approved practices to slow the progression of this disease.
Ride For ALS – Make a Difference With Saints to Sinners
Saints to Sinners is an organization dedicated to fighting ALS. Each year, we ride with a group of people who show solidarity with ALS patients by riding the relay with us. Although ALS is a tough disease, we like to show it that it will not win in the end.
For more information about the Saints to Sinner's race or to register yourself or a team, visit our website and register. We can’t wait to ride with you!