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There's no cure for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), but therapies are available to help reduce your symptoms and enable you to live as independently as possible.
As CMT gets worse over time, you'll need to be assessed regularly to check for any new developments in your condition. How often you're assessed depends on the type of CMT you have and the severity of your symptoms.
Your treatment programme may involve a number of healthcare professionals working together in a multidisciplinary team (MDT). You'll usually have a doctor who co-ordinates your treatment programme and makes sure every aspect of your condition is closely monitored and treated if necessary.
Physiotherapy is one of the most important therapies for improving the symptoms of CMT and reducing the risk of muscle contractures (where muscles shorten and lose their normal range of movement).
Physiotherapy uses physical methods, such as massage and manipulation, to promote healing and wellbeing. It usually involves low-impact exercises such as stretching, swimming and moderate weight-training.
There's a lack of good quality medical research into the benefits of exercise for people with CMT. However, it's possible that some types of exercise are beneficial. For example:
Any exercise needs to be carefully planned as part of a personalised exercise programme. A certain level of exercise may be safe, but you risk making symptoms worse if you don't follow proper instructions or if you over-exert yourself.
Speak to your GP or physiotherapist about arranging a suitable exercise programme that will allow you to pace yourself. Read more information about the benefits of exercise.
Occupational therapy involves identifying problem areas in your everyday life, such as dressing yourself, then working out practical solutions.
Occupational therapy will be useful if muscle weakness in your arms and hands makes it difficult for you to do day-to-day tasks, such as dressing or writing.
An occupational therapist will teach you how to use adaptive aids to compensate for your difficulties, such as clothing with clasps instead of buttons, and magnetic tubes that allow you to pick up objects.
Orthoses are devices worn inside your shoes or on your legs to improve the strength and functionality of your limbs, or to correct your gait (the way you walk).
There are several different types of orthoses, including:
It's unusual to completely lose the ability to walk, but you may benefit from using a wheelchair occasionally. Moving around can be difficult if you have CMT and using a wheelchair every now and again can give you a chance to rest.
In addition to the treatment you receive, there are some general precautions you can take to avoid further problems. These may include:
Ask your MDT if they have specific lifestyle advice for you, as risks may vary from person to person.
There are two types of pain associated with CMT:
Neuropathic pain may be treated with tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) or an anti-convulsant medication (a medicine often used to prevent seizures). These medications weren't originally designed to be painkillers, but there's evidence to suggest they're effective in treating long-term nerve pain in some people.
If CMT causes significant deformities, surgery may be needed to correct them. Some of the types of surgery that may be carried out are described below.
An osteotomy is a surgical procedure used to correct severe flatness of the feet. An incision (cut) is made in your foot and the surgeon removes or repositions the bones in your foot to correct its shape.
After surgery, your foot (or feet) will need to be kept in plaster for several weeks until the bones have healed.
Arthrodesis can also be used to correct flat feet, as well as relieve joint pain and correct heel deformities. It involves fusing the three main joints in the back of your feet to strengthen your feet, correct their shape and relieve pain.
After surgery, your foot (or feet) will be placed in plaster, and you won't be able to place any weight on them for six weeks. During this time, you'll need to use crutches or a wheelchair.
Once you can put weight on your feet, you'll need to wear the cast for another six weeks (12 weeks in total). However, it may take up to 10 months for you to fully recover from the operation.
Plantar fascia release is a surgical procedure used to relieve persistent heel pain caused by inflamed tendons. Tendons are the fibrous cords that join bones to muscle.
During the procedure, part of the tendon is removed and the remaining tendon repositioned and allowed to heal. Afterwards, you'll need to wear a cast for three weeks and won't be able to put any weight on your feet during this time.
Although abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis) can often be treated using a back brace, corrective surgery may be required.
Read more about treating scoliosis.
There's some promising research that may provide new ways of treating people with CMT. This research includes:
Research looking into whether ascorbic acid (vitamin C) could help people with CMT has recently been carried out, but unfortunately no evidence of a benefit was found.