Late effects of polio: Critical review of the literature on neuromuscular function

James C. Agre, Arthur A. Rodriquez, John A. Tafel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Many individuals who have had poliomyelitis are now complaining of several new problems attributed to their former illness including muscle atrophy; fatigue; progressive weakness; and muscle, back, and joint pain. This paper critically examines the literature regarding the neuromuscular effects of poliomyelitis. Weakness resulting from poliomyelitis was due to destruction of anterior horn cells. After the illness, muscle strength was partially recovered as a result of several physiologic adaptive mechanisms including terminal sprouting and reinnervation, myofiber hypertrophy, and, possibly, myofiber type transformation. Several pathophysiologic and functional etiologies have been proposed for late neuromuscular deterioration, but none has proven. In fact, to date, there is no objective evidence documenting progressive loss of strength in polio survivors. Studies attempting to differentiate polio survivors with and without symptoms of deterioration have resulted in conflicting results; however, it appears reasonable to conclude that symptomatic postpolio subjects had a more severe illness with greater loss of neuromuscular function. Exercise may be helpful for many postpolio patients, but the prescription must be tailored to the individual to avoid problems of overuse or excessive fatigue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)923-931
Number of pages9
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number11
StatePublished - Oct 1991


  • Neuromuscular diseases
  • Poliomyelitis
  • Postpolio syndrome


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