Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance
In MS, it’s only the nerves in the brain and/or spine that are damaged. However because these nerves control the functions of the whole body, MS can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Most people will usually experience only a small number around the time of diagnosis and you may never experience all the possible symptoms of MS.
Symptoms vary from person to person and from day to day. This can make your MS rather unpredictable. It’s completely normal for it to take some time to adjust and adapt to this unpredictability going forward in your life.
Some of the most common symptoms around the time of diagnosis are fatigue (a kind of exhaustion which is out of all proportion to the task undertaken), unusual feelings in your skin (such as pins and needles, numbness or burning), problems with eyesight, memory and thinking problems, and walking difficulties (such as tripping, stumbling, weakness or a heavy feeling in your legs).
Exactly what causes MS is unclear. Most experts think a combination of genetic and environmental factors is involved.
MS is an inflammatory disease of the Central Nervous System (CNS) and there are estimated to be about 100,000 people with MS in the UK. The nerve fibres of the CNS are protected by a fatty tissue known as myelin. A Person with MS has areas of damage (lesions) where myelin is lost or damaged (demyelination) which in turn causes nerve cells to become exposed or damaged. People with MS may lose myelin in various areas leaving scar tissue called sclerosis giving the condition its name, Multiple Sclerosis.
Physiotherapy can help with physical independence, flexibility, strength and fitness. It can also improve your chances of staying in employment and reduce the effect MS can have on your general health and quality of life
How can I help myself?
Eating a balanced diet and trying to stay as active as possible can help your general health. Joining a gym is a good way to keep active. Find a gym with staff who are encouraging and give you a flexible exercise programme.
The MS Trust has a useful free guide to self-management on their web site. This covers matters such as coping with the news you have MS, relapses, exercise and diet.
Aerobics. Not only does it get your heartbeat up, it lifts your mood, too. Walking, running, and biking are all good. If you have leg weakness or other problems moving, try something like rowing or water aerobics.
Stretches. They’re good for anyone with MS, but they’re most helpful if you have painful muscle stiffness and spasms. Aside from regular stretches, yoga and tai chi are great ways to build strength and flexibility. They can also help you relax and fight stress.
Strength training. If your GP/Physio says it’s OK, use weights or resistance exercises to build your muscles. The stronger you are, the easier it’ll be to move around.
Tips for a Safe Workout
Take it slow. Always warm up first. Ease into your routine. If all you can manage is a walk around the block — or across the room — that’s fine. Start with that and keep it up. In time, you’ll build up your strength and be able to do much more.
Stay safe. Avoid places with slippery floors, poor lighting, throw rugs, or other tripping hazards. Choose activities that won’t make it likely for you to fall, like stationary biking or swimming. You may want to have a grab bar or rail nearby. Work with your physical therapist on stretches and strength training to improve your balance and coordination.