Exercise: An Effective Strategy for Multiple Sclerosis

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition of the central nervous system, interfering with nerve impulses in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. It is characterised by ‘sclerosis,’ a Greek word meaning scars. These scars occur within the central nervous system and depending on where they develop, manifest into various symptoms.

MS affects over 23,000 people in Australia and more than two million diagnosed worldwide. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20-40, but it can affect younger and older people too. Roughly three times as many women have MS as men.

There is no known cure for MS. Currently the best treatment options aim to manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Symptoms of MS:

MS symptoms are varied and unpredictable depending which area of the nervous system is affected and to what degree. Common symptoms include:

  • Motor control – muscular spasms and problems with weakness, coordination, balance and functioning of the arms and legs.
  • Fatigue – including heat sensitivity.
  • Other neurological symptoms – including vertigo, pins and needles, neuralgia and visual disturbances.
  • Continence problems – including bladder incontinence and constipation.
  • Neuropsychological symptoms – including memory loss, depression and cognitive difficulties.

Special considerations for those exercising with MS:

Fatigue needs to be managed throughout exercise sessions. People suffering from MS fatigue quicker and take longer to recover, compared to those without MS. Additionally, individuals can also improve exercise tolerance by progressing the exercise sessions at an appropriate level.

Sensory symptoms: exercise can trigger an increase in sensory symptoms such as: blurred vision, numbness, pins and needles. However these symptoms will usually resolve within a short time after exercise.

Temperature: increases in environmental or body temperature can trigger an increase in sensory symptoms.

Benefits of exercise for people with MS:

  • Reduces fatigue and increases stamina and fitness levels
  • Improves flexibility of joints
  • Helps in the management of mild spasticity (muscle stiffness)
  • Improves coordination and balance
  • Improves and maintains muscle strength and tone
  • Reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis
  • Improves posture and reduces back and neck pain
  • Maintains blood pressure at normal levels and decreases the risk of heart disease
  • Elevates and reduces stress and depression
  • Builds self-confidence and a sense of wellbeing
  • Increases alertness and concentration
  • Provides opportunity for social interaction and support

If you or someone you know is suffering with Multiple Sclerosis, contact an Optimum Health Solutions Exercise Physiologist today for your individualised exercise program, to help improve your quality of life!

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