Hesperian Health Guides

What Can Be Done?


when the child first becomes paralyzed:

  • No medicines help, either during the first illness, or later.
  • Rest is important. Avoid forceful exercise because this may increase paralysis. Avoid injections.
  • Good food during recovery helps the child become stronger. (But take care that the child does not eat too much and get fat. An overweight child will have more problems with walking and other movements.) For suggestions about good food, see Where There Is No Doctor, Chapter 11.
  • Position the child to be comfortable and to avoid contractures. At first the muscles will be painful, and the child will not want to straighten his joints. Slowly and gently try to straighten his arms and legs so that the child lies in as good a position as possible. (See Chapter 8.)
child in a good position
child in a bad position
Arms, hips, and legs as straight as possible. Feet supported. Bent arms, hips, and legs. Feet in tiptoe position.

Note: To reduce pain, you may need to put cushions under the knees, but try to keep the knees as straight as you can.


  • Continue with good food and good positions.
  • As soon as the fever drops, start exercises to prevent contractures and return strength. Whenever possible, make exercises fun. Active games, swimming, and other activities to keep limbs moving as much as they can are important throughout the child’s rehabilitation.
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  • Crutches, leg braces (calipers), and other aids may help the child to move better and may prevent contractures or deformities.
  • In special cases, surgery may be needed to correct contractures, or to change the place where strong muscles attach, so that they help do the work of weak ones. When a foot is very floppy or bends to one side, surgery to join certain bones of the foot may help. But because bone surgery stops the growth of the foot, usually it should not be done before age 12 or 13.
  • Encourage the child to use his body and mind as much as possible, to play actively with other children, to take care of his daily needs, to help with work, and to go to school. As much as possible, treat him like any other child.

This page was updated:21 Nov 2019