Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune condition, is often triggered by an infection. It has been linked to various factors, such as influenza viruses, vaccinations, and gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases. This illness primarily affects the neurological system, causing tingling and weakness that can progress to paralysis. Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in treating the symptoms and long-term effects of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

At Suarez Physical Therapy in Las Vegas, we are dedicated to supporting you in leading a high-quality lifestyle and maximizing your overall function. In this article, we will take a closer look at Guillain-Barré syndrome, delving into its causes, symptoms, signs, and available treatments.

A Brief Overview of Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack the body's nervous system, specifically the peripheral nerves responsible for sensation and movement control.

Peripheral nerves transmit and receive motor and sensory impulses from the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). These nerves are covered by a myelin coating composed of Schwann cells, which enhances signal conduction.

The demyelination of Schwann cells caused by Guillain-Barré syndrome damages peripheral nerves and disrupts signal transmission. As a result, Guillain-Barré can lead to changes in strength and the ability to take care of yourself, walk, or perform routine tasks including cleaning, cooking, and bathing

Guillain-Barré syndrome can harm individuals and lead to life-threatening health issues. Some of these issues could include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty moving about.
  • Reduced sensation.
  • Experiencing difficulties with swallowing or breathing.
  • Alterations in bladder or bowel function.
  • Vision shifts.
  • Variations in blood pressure, respiration, digestion, and heart rate.

Causes of Guillain-Barré Syndrome

The cause of GBS is unknown. However, studies reveal that two-thirds of patients show signs of Guillain-Barré syndrome following their recovery from:

  • Bacterial infections.
  • Vaccinations or viral illnesses.

GBS frequently develops following a bacterial or viral infection due to:

  • Food poisoning, caused by the bacteria Campylobacter jejuni, which is frequently present in undercooked chicken, is one of the most typical triggers for Guillain-Barré syndrome.
  • Chickenpox and other diseases related to the herpes virus, such as CMV.
  • Tick bites can cause Lyme disease due to the Borrelia bacterium, while mosquito bites can transmit viruses such as West Nile or Zika.
  • Epstein-Barr virus-induced mononucleosis.
  • COVID-19, which is derived from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • Hepatitis virus.
  • Pneumonia.
  • The influenza virus, commonly known as the flu.

According to recently published data, there is inconclusive information regarding the risk of acquiring GBS (Guillain-Barré Syndrome) after receiving a flu vaccination. If you have any questions about immunizations or the potential risk of contracting GBS, you can consult your healthcare physician.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome Signs and Symptoms

Guillain-Barré syndrome progresses gradually. Symptoms often start with tingling in the feet, which then progresses to weakness. These sensations can extend to the arms, upper torso, and legs. Some individuals could initially experience weakness and tingling in their face or arms. Eventually, muscle weakening can lead to paralysis.

Here are a few signs of Guillain-Barré syndrome:

  • Tingling, numbness, or changes in touch sensitivity (feeling).
  • Bilateral weakness or paralysis of the face (palsy).
  • Backache, leg pain, or arm pain.
  • Discomfort that radiates down the legs from the hips or back, as well as pain in the muscles, joints, or nerves.
  • Reduced or absent reflexes.
  • Some common issues include heart rate, digestion, bladder or bowel control, perspiration, and vision.
  • Breathing difficulties in some situations.
  • Muscle weakness, which often affects both sides of the body equally, can start in the foot and spread to the arms and trunk. In the case of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), weakness typically worsens over a few days to a few weeks, usually not exceeding two weeks.

The symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome are similar to those of many other illnesses. If you experience any of these signs, it is important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosis of Guillain-Barré Syndrome

To diagnose GBS, doctors review your medical file and search for specific symptoms. They also evaluate the results of spinal fluid or blood tests, which are often conducted at a hospital. Physical therapists assess you to determine the type of rehabilitation you need.

Based on your diagnosis, your doctor will determine the most suitable medical treatments for you. The following medical procedures could help speed up your recovery or reduce the severity of your symptoms:

  1. Plasmapheresis is a type of treatment that involves extracting, healing, and replenishing the body with plasma from the blood or other blood components.
  2. Immunoglobulin treatment involves the application of antibodies to manage specific diseases.

To evaluate your condition, a physiotherapist will assess the following aspects:

  • Having tolerance for shifting positions and activities.
  • Breathing mechanism and alignment.
  • Overall physical function, including the ability to stand, walk, and get in and out of bed.
  • Degree of pain, if any.
  • Sensation and reflexes.
  • The extent of movement.
  • Strength of muscles.
  • Balance.
  • Endurance and the ability to manage fatigue.
  • Skin health, especially for people who are susceptible to pressure ulcers due to prolonged bed rest or immobility.

Physical therapists and doctors should work together as a team to treat patients with GBS. To ensure optimal care for your needs and goals, your physical therapist will collaborate with your other healthcare providers.

Physiotherapy Exercises for Guillain-Barré Syndrome

There are a variety of physical therapy exercises that can support the rehabilitation process for Guillain-Barré syndrome. Let's review the most popular workouts below.

Strengthening Workouts

A physical therapist will guide you through activities that will gradually help you regain your agility and strength.

Range of Motion Workouts

Guillain-Barré syndrome can lead to stiff muscles and joints, which can restrict your range of motion. Physical therapy exercises designed to restore normal movement can be beneficial. At first, a physical therapist can assist you with "passive" motions, where they move your joints and muscles for you. As part of your treatment, you will gradually be able to perform stretches and exercises independently.

Exercises for Coordination and Balance

GBS impairs your ability to balance and coordinate. However, with the help of a physical therapist, you can gradually regain these abilities. By engaging in targeted exercises, you can improve your balance and coordination, allowing you to carry out daily tasks on your own.

Remember to always seek the advice of a physical therapist before starting any physical therapy activities for Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Gait Training

Recovering from the paralysis caused by Guillain-Barré syndrome can be challenging. The process of learning to walk again requires persistence and expert instruction. To help you in this journey, a physical therapist will design a gait training program. This program will assist you in learning to walk with a cane or walker initially, and eventually progress to walking independently.

How a Physical Therapist Can Help with Guillain-Barré syndrome

Patients diagnosed with GBS should begin receiving physical therapy as soon as possible. Typically, it will start in a hospital setting and could later be continued in other locations. Physical therapists can provide care in the following ways:

  • If, upon hospital discharge, your doctor recommends extensive daily care, consider an inpatient rehabilitation facility.
  • The medical facility.
  • You can resume therapy at an outpatient clinic if the need arises.

A range of treatments is available from physical therapists to address GBS symptoms. These treatments include activities aimed at enhancing function and educating patients. Together, you and your therapist will establish goals that target your needs and advance your progress.

To expedite your rehabilitation process, your physiotherapist will collaborate closely with you to develop a personalized therapy plan. This plan will include clinical treatments, guided exercises, as well as self-directed exercises. The goal is to help you resume your previous lifestyle and activities with the aid of physical therapy.

Each person's recovery from GBS is unique. However, it usually takes several weeks or even months. After diagnosis, some people could experience a recovery period that spans many years. Physical therapists play a crucial role in empowering patients and optimizing their recovery from GBS through hands-on treatments, research-based approaches, and targeted exercises.

Your physical therapist will create a treatment plan to enhance your:

Level Of Comfort

GBS could cause discomfort or pain. Your physical therapist can teach you techniques to arrange your body for greater comfort while sitting, lying down, or moving around. They could also use mild electrical stimulation or heat to help alleviate your pain and symptoms. In addition, your physical therapist will provide you with pain relief exercises and strategies to help ease your suffering. These alternatives can reduce or eliminate the need for painkillers, including opioids.

Joint And Skin Protection

During your recovery from GBS, a physical therapist will frequently assess the health of your skin to ensure its well-being, especially if your movement is restricted. To prevent joint contraction and maintain a gentle stretch, your legs and arms could be fitted with splints. The therapist can also provide you and your caregivers with valuable knowledge on skincare and protection. By following these instructions, you can effectively prevent pressure ulcers and wounds.

Ability to Walk

With the assistance of your physical therapist, you can improve your walking abilities. They could incorporate strengthening routines, balance exercises, and gait training into your sessions. Some GBS patients could experience neuropathy, which is nerve damage, long after their initial illness. Your physical therapist can teach you safe and easy walking techniques. During the recovery process, you could need to use a cane or walker. Additionally, to enhance your function and independence, your physical therapist could work together with an orthodontist who can provide braces or other forms of support.

Training With Wheelchairs

As you work towards restoring your walking ability, a wheelchair can aid in increasing your independence. Your physical therapist can help assess if you need a wheelchair and determine the most suitable type for you. Using a wheelchair temporarily while you heal can assist you in functioning to the fullest extent.

Your Breathing Ability

According to research, engaging in aerobic exercise, such as walking on a treadmill, for at least 20 minutes, three times a week can have the following benefits:

  • Boost your body's ability to intake, transport, and utilize oxygen - enhance your aerobic capacity.
  • Boost the healing process.
  • Reduce fatigue.

Your physiotherapist can determine the optimal exercises for you based on an assessment of your aerobic ability. They will also educate you on how to preserve energy and avoid overexerting your body to aid in healing. Energy conservation can also help prevent a recurrence. With the guidance of a physical therapist, you can increase your endurance through supervised aerobic exercises such as stationary cycling and walking.

Some patients with GBS could require additional oxygen or a ventilator to help them breathe. In addition, those who have stayed in intensive care for more than two days, including GBS patients, could experience post-intensive care syndrome (PICS). Physical therapy can be beneficial in addressing the physical, cognitive, and emotional health issues that are associated with PICS symptoms.

Your physiotherapy treatment plan will address the following:

Joint Mobility

Your physiotherapist will guide you through exercises specifically designed to loosen up tight muscles and joints. Initially, you could begin with "passive" movements where your physical therapist performs the exercises for you. As you progress, you will be able to do stretches and physical workouts independently. It is recommended to continue these exercises at home, whenever possible, to improve your range of motion and reduce discomfort caused by stiff joints.

Flexibility in Movement

You will learn safe mobility techniques from your physical therapist, who will assist you in regaining your capacity if necessary. These include the following:

  • Get out of bed and sit in a chair.
  • Stand and sit.
  • If necessary, use a wheelchair.
  • Move about and ascend stairs.
  • Completing other daily tasks.

Additionally, they will provide instructions to your carers on safe moving assistance.


If any of your muscles are tight, your physiotherapist will assess and identify this. They will then help you increase your mobility and flexibility through gentle workouts. If needed, they will also provide instructions to your family on how they can assist you with these tasks.


Muscle weakness or injury can be a result of GBS. Your physical therapist will teach you the appropriate exercises to help you regain strength and mobility.


Your physiotherapist will assist you in regaining and enhancing your agility and coordination when necessary. This will make it easier for you to resume your involvement in community, sports, and household activities.

Independent Activities

The exercises prescribed by your physical therapist will help you regain your ability to perform everyday tasks. They can also teach you self-exercise activities for pain relief, balance, flexibility, and strength.


Your physical therapist will assess your balance and guide you through targeted workouts to improve it. This will reduce the risk of falls. If needed, they can also guide you on using a walker or cane to assist with your balance.

Engaging In Your Favorite Hobbies

Your physiotherapist can assist you in gradually getting back to your favorite hobbies. They will create a comprehensive rehabilitation plan that is tailored to your specific requirements and objectives.

Family Support

Both you and your family members should be aware of your illness, so they can learn from your physical therapist how to assist you effectively as you heal.

Equipment Use

While you are healing, you could need equipment such as bracing, a wheelchair, a walker, or a cane. Your physical therapist, in collaboration with other medical professionals, can determine the specific equipment you might require. They can also assist you in placing the order.

Can You Prevent Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Currently, there is no known method for preventing GBS. For optimal rehabilitation, early diagnosis and physical therapy are highly beneficial. If you experience symptoms such as increasing weakness or difficulty breathing and swallowing, seek immediate medical attention.

By following your physician's medical instructions, you could be able to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a recurrence of GBS. It is also helpful to inform your doctor if you have received any specific vaccinations or had any infections before developing GBS.

You should adhere to the advice of your physical therapist as you heal to enjoy the following:

  • When you walk, prioritize both function and safety to make the most of your experience.
  • Reduce your chances of developing contractures and stiff joints. Contractures refer to the hardening or shortening of tendons, muscles, and other tissues, which can lead to deformed joints.
  • Lower the chance of falling.
  • Reduce the need for painkillers.
  • Reduce fatigue and improve overall endurance.

What Kind of Physiotherapist Should I Consider?

Through education and practical training, physical therapists are qualified to treat patients with Guillain-Barré syndrome. You might want to consider the following:

A licensed physiotherapist with expertise in treating patients with neurological conditions

A physiotherapist who has completed a neurologic physical therapy residency or fellowship, or who is certified as a neurologic clinical specialist, can potentially assist with your issue. These therapists have undergone extensive training, gained valuable experience, and possess unique talents in this field.

If you are looking for a physiotherapist or any other healthcare professional, here are some general tips that might be helpful.

  • Consult with loved ones, close friends, or other medical professionals for recommendations. Inquire about the physiotherapists' experience in treating GBS patients.
  • Prepare yourself to explain your symptoms in great detail, including what helps or worsens them.

Find a Las Vegas Physiotherapist Near Me

If you're suffering from Guillain-Barré syndrome, you should pursue treatment immediately before your symptoms become unbearable. Delaying treatment can result in irreversible nerve damage. In the Las Vegas area, Suarez Physical Therapy provides personalized physical therapy services that can assist you in restoring your mobility, independence, and physical strength. Contact one of our Las Vegas physical therapists by calling 702-368-6778 today.