Physiotherapy for Motor Neurone Disease

What is Motor Neurone Disease?

Motor Neurone Disease (MND) refers to a group of progressive neurological disorders that destroy motor neurons. Motor neurons are cells in the brain and the spine that send the message from the brain to the muscles that help us to walk, breathe, speak and swallow. It is unclear what causes MND, but some people with MND have one or more people in their family with MND.

MND leads to weakness all over the body, which deteriorates over time. Symptoms can of MND can include

  • muscle weakness
  • muscle spasms
  • muscle spasticity or stifness

These symptoms can make it hard for people with MND to continue to perform their daily activities and impact their quality of life.

MND can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to other neurological conditions, and is eventually fatal. When MND progresses to impact the respiratory system (e.g. weak cough, shallow breathing), the average life expectancy is 2-4 years.; however, some will live for a decade or more.

What treatment is there for Motor Neurone Disease?

There is no cure. Treatment is aimed at comfort and helping people to be able to keep as much function as they can. Medications may help with muscle stiffness, muscle cramps or excess saliva.

Guidelines for the management of people with MND include involving a multidisciplinary care team, including:

  • physiotherapy
  • occupational therapy
  • speech pathology

How does physiotherapy support people with Motor Neurone Disease?

Physiotherapists have many tools in their toolkit to help support people with MND. Physiotherapy may include:

  • Trial and recommendations of walking aids and equipment
  • Tailored exercise programs
  • Pain management
  • Management of respiratory symptoms

There is evidence that exercise helps maintain muscle strength, fitness and quality of life for people with MND. As MND can progress rapidly, it is recommended people with MND see a physiotherapist as soon as possible.

Physiotherapy management changes through the early, middle, and late stages of MND. Physiotherapy management for each stage depends on the person’s presentation at the stage. Each person with MND is affected in a unique and unpredictable way, so the role of the physiotherapist changes in alignment which everyone needs.

At Sunshine Coast Neuro Rehab, we can assist with your physiotherapy management if you have been diagnosed with MND. If you you have any more questions or would like to make an appointment contact us on or (07) 5448 1155.

Neve Cavanagh
Physiotherapist, APA Member


  • NIH MND fact sheet Available from:
  • Andersen, P., Abrahams, S., Borasio, G., de Carvalho, M., Chio, A., & Van Damme, P. et al. (2011). EFNS guidelines on the Clinical Management of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (MALS) – revised report of an EFNS task force. European Journal Of Neurology, 19(3), 360-375. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-1331.2011.03501.x
  • Motor neurone disease: assessment and management. (2016). National Institute For Healthcare Excellence.