Treating Multiple Sclerosis with Physical Therapy

By MarieNelson on August 13th, 2019

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive neurologic disease that damages the nerves. This damage often leads to serious symptoms such as numbness and tingling, weakness, muscle pain and vision problems.

In some people, MS can be aggressive and advance quickly. In other people, it can be mild and progress at a much slower pace, with long periods of inactivity. Physical therapy is an important part of treatment for people with MS.

PT for MS involves exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve your gait (how you walk) and your balance and coordination. It also involves stretches to help you maintain mobility and prevent muscle spasms. PT can also include training on how to use mobility aids like a cane, walker, or wheelchair.

PT may be helpful at various stages of your condition, and for different types of MS.

At diagnosis

At the time of your MS diagnosis, it’s important to meet with a physical therapist for a baseline evaluation. This exam allows the therapist to see what your body is capable of now so they can compare that with your future abilities. You can also discuss your physical limitations and understand what levels of exercise and physical activity are appropriate for you.

During a relapse

A relapse, also called a flare or exacerbation, is a period of time when symptoms of MS are more frequent or severe. During this period, you may have greater difficulty with everyday tasks that include:

  • working
  • cooking
  • walking
  • bathing

Your physical therapist will know how the relapse is affecting you by conducting a physical exam and comparing it with your baseline evaluation. After a relapse you should meet with your physical therapist to resume PT. Therapy after a relapse may help you regain some of the strength you might have lost during the relapse.

For progressive multiple sclerosis

If you have primary progressive MS, you don’t experience relapses. Instead, your disease is on a gradual, constant decline. If you’re diagnosed with this type of MS, ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist right away. It’s crucial to your health and well-being that you start PT as soon as you can. PT can teach you how to compensate for the changes you’ll experience. You may also need to learn how to use a mobility aid, such as a standing device or wheelchair.

For advanced multiple sclerosis

People with advanced MS have severe MS symptoms. In most cases, people with advanced MS are nonambulatory. This means they cannot walk or get around without help from another person or a motorized device. Also, people at this stage have an increased risk of developing other health conditions such as osteoporosis or epilepsy.

People with advanced MS can still benefit from PT. For instance, PT can help you learn to sit properly, develop upper body strength, and maintain the ability to use mobility aids.

If you have MS, talk with your doctor about your course of treatment. If you would like to begin working with a physical therapist, ask your doctor for a referral.

MS is different for everyone, and some people may respond well to certain exercises while others won’t. Be honest with your doctor and your therapist about your symptoms and how you’re feeling so that they can create a PT program that’s right for you.