Background and purpose: Patients with Stiff-Person Syndrome (SPS) typically show stiffness and spasms, primarily of the trunk and proximal lower extremities. The purpose of this case report is to provide an overview of SPS and a description of the specific physical therapy management strategies used during a brief inpatient rehabilitation stay for a patient with SPS, illustrating the use of the patient/client management model in the Guide to Physical Therapist Practice.
Case description: The patient was a 33-year-old with a 3- year history of SPS. He spent 10 days in an in-patient rehabilitation hospital where he received physical therapy daily. The initial examination revealed impairments of pain, range of motion, reflex integrity, and motor function, along with abnormalities of posture, balance, and function. The procedural interventions included therapeutic exercise and functional retraining. Stretching exercises were categorized according to their priority and level of difficulty to accommodate for the patient's varying symptoms, and relaxation exercises aimed to reduce the severity of the patient's spasms. The functional retraining program included transfer and progressive gait training.
Outcomes: The patient showed improvements in ankle range of motion, posture, and gait (distance, speed, and independence), despite continued problems with stiffness, spasms, and pain.
Discussion: Physical therapists working with patients with SPS have challenges related to the paucity of information in the literature. The chronic, progressive, and variable nature of SPS indicates the need for life-long management, with the inclusion of an exercise program that can be adjusted accordingly, given the frequently changing symptoms experienced by the patient. As is shown with this case, it appears that physical therapy can improve function and some of the impairments associated with SPS.