Muscular dystrophy is a hereditary medical condition that greatly affects the muscles of the body and causes progressive weakness. While there are fewer than 200,000 cases in the United States, as of right now, there is no cure. Most forms of this serious disease occur in young children, primarily boys. Abnormal genes cause degeneration of the muscles. Many find that they need to use a wheelchair, and the disease typically leads to a shorter life span in the patient.
Most of the symptoms of muscular dystrophy occur in children somewhere between the ages of 2 and 3. As the disease attacks the body, the muscles begin to weaken. Children may have difficulties putting pressure on their legs, or they may manifest other areas of weakness, especially around the ankles. This weakness may come and go. For example, a child may be walking along, when, unexpectedly, one of their legs just gives out unexpectedly due to weakness in the muscles.
This symptom frequently goes hand in hand with the first early warning sign of muscular dystrophy. As the muscles begin to weaken, children fall more and more often. The patient may begin walking differently, sometimes falling when stepping off a curb the wrong way or going up or down steps. Young children with muscular dystrophy should be monitored at all times.
Difficulty Sitting or Standing Up
Sitting up and standing from a seated position isn’t always as easy as it looks. When suffering with muscular dystrophy, the weakened muscles may make it difficult to complete normal activities. When a person begins to stand up, they push up from their feet, with their muscles tightening and flexing until the person is standing upright. The more the muscles begin to deteriorate, the more difficult standing and sitting up can become.
Trouble Running or Jumping
A patient suffering from muscular dystrophy may develop difficulty with the acts of running and jumping. As the muscles weaken, it can make running and jumping very hard for a patient with muscular problems. This symptom can come and go, which is why it may be initially ignored. One moment a child may be running through the park, and then they seem to be having difficulties jumping over a log or pushing off the ground with their legs as they swing.
Another warning sign of muscular dystrophy is muscle contractions. A muscle contraction or spasm is caused by a muscle that tenses up and cannot find a way to voluntarily relax, thereby releasing the tension that is created. When this tension persists, it can also lead to painful cramping of the muscles. When a patient experiences muscle contractions, the best way to release them is by straightening the affected area and applying heat to help the muscle to relax. Physicians may also prescribe muscle relaxers to help relieve the tension.
Unusual Walking Patterns
As a patient with muscular dystrophy finds it increasingly difficult to walk, the body has an amazing way of trying to offset this. The sufferer will find that, when one walking pattern doesn’t seem to be working out anymore, they can slightly alter their gait to take some of the tension off the weakened muscles. However, this coping technique can eventually create problems in the back and neck as the body continues to realign in ways that do not always come naturally.
Walking on the Toes
When children tend to mostly walk on their toes, this means that they are having difficulties with the normal heel-to-toe gait that most people utilize when walking. This can definitely be an early warning sign that the child could have muscular dystrophy. As the disease progresses, the weakening muscles find it extremely hard to assist in the act of walking with normal steps, due to the lack of control in the muscles. Placing most of the body’s pressure on the toes can create a sense of balance as they attempt to continue walking unimpeded.
Large Calf Muscles
Swelling in the calf muscles can happen when fluid begins to build up or when the muscles are continuously contracting, which builds up more muscle. Painful spasms and contractions also generally occur in the area of the calf muscles as well. This symptom can often be overlooked, but when they manifest with a few of the other early warning signs of muscular dystrophy, an appointment should definitely be made with a healthcare professional.
Muscle Pain and Stiffness
Muscle pain and stiffness are other symptoms of muscular dystrophy, although they can also be attributed to many other less serious conditions. However, as the muscles begin to weaken, pain occur when muscles are overworked and overused to do simple things that weren’t a problem before. Stiffness can take over the muscles during long periods of inactivity. Alternating hot and cold packs may alleviate some of the pain and stiffness, and of course, a physician can prescribe medications to provide relief as well.
Children with muscular dystrophy may possess an impairment of the functions of the brain, making it difficult for them to learn in the same ways as do children without the disease. Studies have shown that children with this condition often have problems with all forms of learning and general education, development, social skills and emotional adjustments. This can lead to a host of other difficulties, including having trouble playing with other children, focusing, and understanding what is acceptable in social situations and environments. Counseling and therapy are both available for these symptoms to assist with the quality of the child’s life.