Our younger followers might be forgiven for thinking that polio is no longer an issue in general society – since it’s a condition that has all but been eradicated in the UK nowadays. But, for more senior patients who contracted polio in their youth, post-polio syndrome can manifest decades after they thought they had recovered from the original illness.
For post-polio patients, pain and mobility can be major issues, and many have been wearing orthotic calipers for many years. LOC regularly works with patients to upgrade their calipers – in many cases giving them a new lease of life by ensuring that their orthoses are lightweight, easy to handle and facilitate improved movement and comfort.
LOC founder and Director, Sam Walmsley, explains why this treatment is important in maximising quality of life for post-polio patients.
What is post-polio syndrome?
Post-polio syndrome is a secondary re-occurrence of polio symptoms. The syndrome typically manifests between 15 and 40 years after the patient first experienced polio. In layman’s terms, you could think about the condition as being in the same ball park as experiencing shingles many years after having chicken pox. With post-polio syndrome, the symptoms of the original polio virus return and in many cases can be more severe.
Symptoms can include severe fatigue, muscle weakness and degeneration, muscle and joint pain and sleep apnoea – as well as, for some patients, breathing and swallowing problems.
The symptoms of post-polio syndrome tend to onset quite gradually and a thorough diagnosis is important, as the condition can behave in a similar way to other conditions such as arthritis.
Unlike polio itself, post-polio syndrome is not contagious. It only affects patients who previously had the polio virus. Because the first polio vaccinations were not introduced until 1955, post-polio syndrome is now becoming relatively common in patients who contracted polio in the 1940s and early 1950s. According to the NHS, that amounts to an estimated 120,000 people in the UK – but there are no clear cut estimates as to how many of those patients may go on to develop post-polio syndrome (estimates range from 15% to 80%).
How do orthotic calipers help post-polio syndrome?
Although some primary cases of polio resolve themselves after weeks or months, others can leave the patient with decreased mobility, muscle strength and similar problems. In many cases, patients will have been wearing calipers ever since their original illness to help them with these issues. Patients with post-polio syndrome often go on to experience muscle and joint weakness in areas that were not previously affected. In both cases, correctly manufactured and aligned bespoke orthotic calipers provide support, facilitate greater mobility and ease discomfort. A lot of the patients we see have been using their calipers for forty or fifty years – but as they get older they start to experience increased weakness and decreased stability and find themselves in need of extra support.
Why is LOC upgrading post-polio syndrome calipers?
In my experience, most former polio patients tend to be extremely capable and lead active lives. In most cases they have learnt to manage their calipers very adeptly – the calipers literally become part of them, an extension of their own physiology. But, for patients who have been wearing their orthoses for a long time, those devices will usually be manufactured from steel and leather, which are relatively heavy and cumbersome materials.
Calipers need to be upgraded from time to time anyway just to deal with wear and tear. So, when a patient comes to us for this service, it’s an opportunity to look at lightweight options manufactured from titanium and carbon fibre. At the same time, we have to be respectful of the fact that many patients are actually very happy with the performance of their old calipers. They have become comfortable and familiar, and patients don’t want to change that.
So our approach is to focus on keeping all of the functionality and feel of the old calipers but in as lightweight a form as possible. We concentrate on keeping the systems and the brace design true to the patient’s previous prescription, but simply cut the weight down.
What impact do lightweight calipers have on post-polio patients?
Typically, by switching to titanium and carbon fibre manufacture, we can reduce the weight of the calipers by around two thirds. That’s very significant. It reduces the strain of wearing a heavier piece of equipment, so it can significantly reduce muscle and joint pain and increase mobility. At the same time, by ensuring that the design and function of the calipers is very similar to their original orthoses, we can give patients the best of both worlds. They can continue to enjoy the familiar feel and comfort of the calipers they’ve often worn for most of their lives, but they can also be relieved of a lot of the weight and therefore have more freedom of movement and less pain and discomfort.
We do a lot of this type of work for post-polio patients and we have been engaged in this area for a number of years. Of course, every case is individual, but it really is amazing the difference that modern, lightweight calipers can make to our patients’ comfort, freedom of movement and quality of life. It’s an incredibly satisfying and rewarding area to be involved in.
If you wear calipers that are in need of an upgrade and you would like to seek our advice, simply contact LOC for a no obligation assessment of what might be possible.