May 18, 2023 What is Stiff Person Syndrome?

by Hesham Ali, PTA, Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center

Celine Dion shocked the world in 2022, when she announced that she was living with Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS). A rare, progressive neurological disorder, SPS affects one in one million people. You may be asking, what exactly is the disease and what has research shown regarding the different interventions available?

As the name suggests, SPS causes a person’s body to become rigid, making it incredibly difficult to perform day-to-day activities.[1] The syndrome is usually diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60 years old and is more prevalent in females than males. Symptoms include muscle spasms, decreased range of motion and difficulty walking. Research is limited since the disease is so rare, but some case studies suggest that physical therapy can be a great intervention.

Physical therapy cannot stop the progression of the disease, but it can help manage the symptoms and improve a person’s overall functionality. Interventions include, but are not limited to, soft tissue work, electrostimulation for pain modulation, relaxation techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, stretching and hydrotherapy. Ankle-foot orthoses, leg casts and assistive devices also can be helpful for individuals in the later stages of SPS to ambulate easier.[2]

Research and information about SPS are still being developed, but with advocacy and awareness, the medical community can find more ways to help people diagnosed with the disease. Pharmacological/medical management coupled with physical medicine can provide viable options to help improve the quality of life of people diagnosed with SPS.

Hesham Ali, PTA, is a physical therapist assistant based at the Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center, Livingston, NJ. He has more than two years of experience as a practicing clinician in outpatient, sports care, homecare and assisted living settings. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Science in History and a Minor in Spanish from Rutgers Newark. He earned an Associate in Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assistant Degree from Union County College. Hesham is a very passionate advocate for physical therapy and mental health. In his free time, he enjoys working out at the gym, outdoor activities like hiking, going to the beach, playing volleyball and city nightlife.

The experienced and compassionate staff at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center Rehabilitation centers, with locations in West Orange and Livingston, offers adults and children the specialized care they need to resume an active life after surgery, injury or illness. Staff is committed to providing patients with the most advanced services in a safe, caring and soothing environment. For high-risk patients who are unable to visit in person, telehealth is an option. Patients do not need a prescription for physical therapy services.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 973-322-7500.


[1]. Yadav, Ruchi, et al. “One in a Million: A Case Report of Stiff Person Syndrome.” Case reports in rheumatology vol. 2022 7741545. 13 Jan. 2022, doi:10.1155/2022/7741545.

[2]. Vaiyapuri, Anandh, et al. “Is Stiff Person Syndrome Benefited by Physical Therapy Intervention? Summary of Case Reports.” BioMed Research International, Mar. 2019, pp. 1–7. EBSCOhost,