Friedreich Ataxia and Exercise

Friedreich Ataxia (FA) is relatively rare inherited degenerative disease of the nervous system affecting the coordination of muscles. Individuals with FA will usually exhibit loss of physical coordination, loss of balance, unsteady gait, weak muscles and poor muscle tone. Depending on the onset of FA some individuals affected will need the use of a wheelchair while others may still be ambulatory with the use of walking aids such as sticks or frames. FA can also cause abnormalities in the muscles of the heart so cardiac problems are a common complication of FA.

While there is no cure for FA regular physical activity can help manage the symptoms of FA. Individuals with FA would benefit from a functional rehabilitation program focusing on the following:

  • Stretching – to help relieve tight muscles and help reduce the onset of postural deformities such as scoliosis.
  • Strengthening exercises for lower limbs – a tailored exercise program to maximise function and independence. Individuals with FA who remain ambulatory benefit from strengthening exercises in the lower limbs and training aimed to improve ataxic gait patterns. This can include training focusing on gait including visual cueing to help facilitate a more efficient pattern.
  • Strengthening exercises for upper limbs – low intensity strengthening for the upper body should also be incorporated into an exercise program to maintain function. Upper limb strength training can be especially helpful for non-ambulatory individuals to increase their function and mobility in their wheelchair and increase independence.
  • Stabilising exercises – for the trunk and lower back can help maintain posture for both those who are ambulatory and non-ambulatory. Core exercises are especially important for those who require the use of a wheelchair.
  • Balance and coordination exercises – using visual feedback can also be helpful to maintain function and independence to improve activities of daily living. It is important that these exercises be functional in nature to allow the client to be more independent at home ie: cooking, eating, bathing and transferring.
  • Light cardio exercises – to help maintain a healthy weight and improve cardiovascular fitness.

An exercise program including the above mentioned exercises will be beneficial to individuals with FA to manage their symptoms and help maintain function and increase independence to improve quality of life. It is important when starting an exercise program that fatigue is closely monitored and that all exercises are performed in a safe environment to minimise injuries.

Our thanks to Sporting Wheelies in Brisbane for this article. Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association have a gym facility at Bowen Hills in Brisbane that is wheelchair accessible and focuses on fitness and rehabilitation for people with all abilities. The gym includes a wide variety of standard and modified equipment such as wider and lower benches for easy transfer and removable seats on some equipment for easy access for wheelchair users. Sporting Wheelies also offers a personal training program that focuses on functional rehabilitation. For more information on becoming a member of Sporting Wheelies please contact us on (07) 3253 3333, email: or visit our website: