Hydrotherapy for Sanfilippo Syndrome

Brian Murphy, Ph.D. avatar

by Brian Murphy, Ph.D. |

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Patients with Sanfillipo syndrome can develop muscle weakness as well as joint stiffness and pain as they age. Physiotherapy can help improve muscle strength and flexibility. Research also has shown that physiotherapy involving water (hydrotherapy) can help children with neuromuscular impairments, including Sanfilippo syndrome.

What is Sanfilippo syndrome?

Sanfilippo syndrome, also known as mucopolysaccharidosis type III (MPS III), is a rare genetic disorder that affects the nervous system. Mutations in one of four genes involved in the formation of enzymes to break down a molecule called heparan sulfate can cause the disorder. As a result, heparan sulfate accumulates inside cells, leading to progressive damage. 

What is hydrotherapy?

The term hydrotherapy can be used to describe any of a number of treatments involving water to treat diseases and promote health.  Hydrotherapy most commonly refers to aquatic or pool therapy, which is a form of physical or physiotherapy that takes place in a heated pool. Patients perform specific exercises with assistance and guidance from a physical therapist or assistant. The exercises in hydrotherapy usually are slow movements that aim to increase strength and range of motion in joints.

How can hydrotherapy help?

As Sanfillipo syndrome progresses, patients can lose strength and flexibility in their joints, particularly in their feet and ankles. Some patients also may develop brittle bones. The warm water used in hydrotherapy helps the muscles to relax and stretch. This can be helpful to work on flexibility and relieve contractures, which sometimes occur.

The buoyancy imparted by the water can help relieve the stress on joints and allow weak muscles to move with less resistance that gravity usually causes. Decreased gravity also helps reduce the risk of injury to bones if they have started to become brittle. Finally, the water can provide resistance to movements that can strengthen the muscles.

How do I find a hydrotherapy center?

Many hydrotherapy centers are associated with hospitals or physical therapy practices, although some operate independently. Contact your physician or physical therapist to see if they can recommend a particular facility. You also should contact your insurance provider for a list of facilities they approve and to find out whether you need a referral for treatment.


Last updated: Sept. 8, 2020


Sanfilippo Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.