By Ashlee Jones, DPT, OCS, ATC
One of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) is difficulty with walking, which typically develops from weakness, spasticity, loss of balance, sensory deficits or fatigue.
MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.”
Although difficulty with walking is the most common symptom, it is also the most underreported one. Approximately 40 percent of MS patients say they rarely or almost never discuss walking problems with their physicians.
But these are important conversations to have. A physical therapist can do a quick assessment of an individual’s walking ability, and ask questions to lead an individual to the right treatment.
Physical therapy can help MS patients in multiple ways, including to increase walking speed, endurance, arm and leg strength; improve balance and aerobic capacity; and advance functional independence. It can decrease a fear of falling and minimize the risk of depression.
A physical therapy evaluation may include gait assessment; proprioception training (improving balance and stability); oculomotor assessment (evaluating gaze stability in relation to head and body movements); examination; cardiovascular endurance training; and upper and lower muscle strength assessment.
With the support of a physical therapist, MS patients can manage their symptoms with a home exercise program; return to home and community activities, such as cleaning, cooking and hobbies; gain confidence; and regain independence.