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Karen Kowalske, M.D. Answers Questions On Polio

Karen Kowalske, M.D. Answers Questions On: Polio

Tell me about the polio patients you treat.

I care for people who had polio in the past and recovered from it – most of whom are about 60-75 years old.

Although most recovered polio patients don’t experience significant pain, many suffer from muscle weakness, balance problems, and/or overuse syndromes from trying to compensate for those issues.

People with post-polio syndrome – which affects some people who recovered from severe polio – get weaker as they age. This increased muscle weakness can lead to fatigue, pain, and other issues.

In addition, the orthotic braces many of these patients wear on their legs can exacerbate their problems.

What does Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation offer to recovered polio patients?

After carefully evaluating and talking with these patients, we work with them to find creative ways to keep them mobile and to come up with personalized treatment strategies.

These outpatient strategies include rehabilitation focused on energy conservation, orthotic bracing, and assistive devices. We sometimes use therapeutic injections and medications to manage pain caused by muscle fatigue and overuse.

We don’t do a lot of exercise because that tends to make weak patients weaker.

What’s new in orthotic bracing for these patients?

Many braces are now being made from things like graphite and very lightweight metals, and the weight difference compared to older braces is incredible.

Our relationship with UT Southwestern’s Prosthetics and Orthotics Clinic gives our patients access to these cutting-edge orthotics that are often much lighter, more effective, and more efficient than what they’re currently using.

These advances make a huge difference in the energy consumption of walking with a brace.

Do recovered polio patients require ongoing rehabilitative care?

The ongoing care we provide to recovered polio patients is really about helping them age with a disability as well as possible.

We see most of them about once a year to make sure that their equipment still fits and meets their needs, that they’re staying active, and to address any problems or injuries.