The word ataxia means “without coordination” and it can affect the limbs, or the muscles involved in swallowing/speech.

Ataxia may be:

  • Acquired: as a result of trauma caused by conditions such as brain injury, a stroke, autoimmune diseases, as such as multiple sclerosis, brain tumour, or cerebral palsy. It can also be caused by long-term excessive alcohol consumption.

  • Idiopathic late onset cerebellar ataxia (ILOCA): which occurs when the brain becomes progressively damaged over time, without clear reason.

  • Hereditary: from a genetic predisposition, such as Friedreich’s ataxia.


There are many different types of ataxia and the severity/symptoms will vary greatly amongst individuals.

Ataxia can be caused by problems with:

  • The Cerebellum. This is the area of the brain that largely controls coordination and balance, so any damage to the cerebellum, or the spinal cord and nerves connecting to the cerebellum can result in ataxia. This may cause low muscle tone, muscle tremors, wide gait, fatigue, dizziness, changes to behaviour.

  • Sensation. Damage to the peripheral or spinal nerves can result in ‘sensory ataxia’. With less sensation, there is less feedback to the brain about the position of the body parts (this is called proprioception) and poor arm and leg control can result.

  • The vestibular system. Your vestibular system is comprised of the ear canals and fluid which helps the body detect spatial orientation. If this damaged then vertigo, a staggering gait can result.


Physiotherapy may not be able to cure ataxia but it can help to improve the symptoms by helping work on balance, coordination of the limbs, fine finger control tasks, core stability, gait, discuss walking aids, or other appropriate aids and adaptations to support daily living tasks.


If you suffer with ataxia and would like support with it, please contact us on: