One of the keys to maintaining mobility and fighting fatigue when you have multiple sclerosis (MS) is to stay active. "For years, doctors told people with MS not to exercise," according to Meg Frazer, MD, Senior Director within the Cardiovascular and Metabolic team at Pfizer. "But we know that for someone with MS, exercise can be very important." Of course, that doesn't mean that people with MS should be training for triathlons. Instead, Frazer suggests focusing on activities that help improve balance, muscle tone and endurance. Before beginning a new exercise routine you should speak with your health care team and work together to design the right plan for you.
1. To improve balance: Balance problems are common symptoms of MS. "There also aren't any medications that improve balance in MS so the only thing you can really do is to work the balance centers in your brain," says Dr. Frazer.
Try sitting on a balance ball*: There are plenty of low-impact exercises you can do with a large balance ball, but just sitting on one is great for balance. "When you sit on the ball, your body makes small changes in the spine and hips," according to Dr. Frazer. "Those adjustments can help improve your balance."
2. To improve muscle tone: MS causes the muscle to become tight. "If you're walking down the street and your muscles are too tight, you're going to become tired more easily," explains Dr. Frazer. Tightness can also decrease your range of motion and affect your balance, making it painful and potentially difficult to walk.
Try tai chi or yoga*: Activities that involve stretching, such as tai chi and yoga, can help improve muscle tone. These activities are also great for improving balance at the same time.
3. To improve endurance: Building aerobic endurance can help people with MS fight some of the fatigue associated with the condition. Aerobic exercise that includes some light resistance training can also help improve muscle tone.
Try swimming or other water activities*: This low-impact activity is great for the heart and lungs, yet gentle on joints. “It’s also a great form of exercise for people with limited balance,” says Dr. Frazer
*Before beginning any exercise routine you should speak with your health care team and work together to design the right plan for you.
1. Andreasen AK, Stenager E and Dalgas U. The effect of exercise therapy on fatigue in multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler. 2011 Apr; 17: 1041. doi: 10.1177/1352458511401120.
2. Cattaneo D, Jonsdottir J, Zocchi M, Regola A. Effects of balance exercise on people with multiple sclerosis: a pilot study. Clin Rehabil. 2007 Sep; 21(9): 771-81. doi: 10.1177/0269215507077602.
3. Freeman JA, Fear M, Pauli A, Cowan P et al. The effect of core stability training on balance and mobility in ambulant individuals with multiple sclerosis: a multi-centre series of single case studies. Mult Scler. 2010 Nov; 16(11): 1377-84. doi: 10.1177/1352458510378126.
4. Snook EM and Motl RW. Effect of exercise training on walking mobility in multiple sclerosis: a meta-analysis. Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2009 Feb; 23(2): 108-116. doi: 10.1177/1545968308320641.
5. White LJ and Dressendorfer RH. Exercise and multiple sclerosis. Sports Med. 2004; 34(15): 1077-1100. doi: 10.1080/02640410500357036.
6. Olek MJ. Epidemiology and clinical features of multiple sclerosis in adults. UpToDate Web site. Accessed April 24, 2013.
7. Mills RJ, Yap L, Young CA. Treatment for ataxia in multiple sclerosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jan; (1):CD005029. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005029.
8. Petajan JH and White AT. Recommendations for physical activity in patients with multiple sclerosis. Sports Med. 1999 Mar; 27(3):179-191. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199927030-00004.
9. Rogers ME, Fernandez JE, Bohlken RM. Training to reduce postural sway and increase functional reach in the elderly. J Occup Rehabil. 2001 Dec; 11(4): 291-8. doi: 10.1023/A:1013300725964.
10. Gordon AM, Huxley AF, Julian FJ. The variation in isometric tension with sarcomere length in vertebrate muscle fibres. J Physiol. 1966; 184:170-192. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1966.sp007909.
11. Sinkjaer T, Toft E, Larsen K, Andreassen S, Hansen HJ. Non-reflex and reflex mediated ankle joint stiffness in multiple sclerosis patients with spasticity. Muscle nerve. 1993 Jan; 16(1): 69-76. doi: 10.1002/mus.880160112.
12. Sosnoff JJ, Shin S, Motl RW. Multiple sclerosis and postural control: the role of spasticity. Med Rehabil. 2010; 91:93-9. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2009.09.013.
13. Li F, Harmer P, Fisher KJ, Mcauley E. Tai chi: improving functional balance and predicting subsequent falls in older persons. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004; 36(12): 2046-2052. doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000147590.54632.E7.
14. Tran MD, Holly RG, Lashbrook J, Amsterdam EA. Effects of hatha yoga practice on the health-related aspects of physical fitness. Prev Cardiol. 2001 Autumn; 4(4): 165-170. doi: 10.1111/j.1520-037X.2001.00542.x.
15. Ulger I and Yagli NV. Effects of yoga on balance and gai properties in women with musculoskeletal problems: a pilot study. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2011 Feb; 17(1): 13-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2010.06.006.
16. Zettergren KK, Lubeski JM, Viverito JM. Effects of a yoga program on postural control, mobility, and gait speed in community-living older adults: a pilot study. J Geriatr Phys Ther. 2011Apr-Jun; 34(2): 88-94. doi: 10.1519/JPT.0b013e31820aab53.
Which one of the following options most applies to you?