Definition, taken from a newsletter of the MS Society on Exercise and MS: “Multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.”
I had and have the privilege of working with five clients who have MS, and I am very happy to report that every one of them has improved in function. While five clients hardly represent a sizeable number for any study, I have observed a few things that all of them had in common and which I want to share.
I cannot imagine how I would feel on first receiving the diagnosis of MS; depressed would be among the first. Because of its unpredictability, it’s impossible to know how bad it will be and where it will end. MS symptoms are usually progressive, but the progression is not necessarily linear. There are good days, and there are bad days. Since MS usually affects the way a person walks, this shift in gait often leads to secondary problems with hips, lower back and knees which have nothing directly to do with MS. The resulting pain makes people often more sedentary which in turn exacerbates the problems further.
I have seen that clients with MS usually are in much worse shape than they need to be if they just knew how to counteract some of the growing limitations.
On a bad day, a client may have a very hard time walking but that does not mean that she has now reached a new low and that the necessary adaptations for that one day have to be here to stay. And yet, that seems to happen very often. We all know that a body adapts to new patterns of movement rather quickly, MS or not, and I have observed repeatedly that gait can be improved just be illustrating that a more ‘normal’ pattern is possible.
MS tends to impact one side more than the other, and hip and dorsiflexion are often problematic which leads to the characteristic swing gait. I have observed that those movements can be improved if there is still a connection. I have also witnessed that a seemingly dormant movement can all of a sudden ‘kick in’ when solicited with eccentric loading. There is nothing more rewarding for a trainer than to watch this happening.
It takes a bit of sleuthing to find a way to work a muscle when traditional exercises are not possible but a combination of isolation and integration can often lead to encouraging results. Once gait and posture improve, the secondary problems also diminish. Needless to say, having less pain and an improvement of function and stability provides a much better outlook on life and can reverse the downward spiral physically and emotionally.