Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis – How Can a Physiotherapist Help?

The last week in April this year is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week. But what are the options for therapy for multiple sclerosis? Let’s take a look at MS, the way it affects people, and how physiotherapy can help.

Orange Ribbon symbol for Multiple Sclerosis Awareness in a circle of paper cutout figures

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive, neurological auto-immune disease. Inflammation in the nervous system results in loss of myelin sheath – the protective coating around nerves. This can disrupt the ability of the nerves to transmit signals, causing a wide range of symptoms.

Who gets multiple sclerosis?

MS is the leading cause of disability in young adults after trauma. It’s usually diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40. It affects two-and-a-half times the number of women than men.

The risk of getting MS varies with the place you live in your early life. It’s greater in cooler climates. It’s possible that low UV exposure or lack of vitamin D plays a role. With over 15,000 cases, Scotland has one of the highest rates of MS in the world.

Having a close family member with MS increases your risk too. Other risk factors include certain viral infections, such as with the Epstein-Barr virus.

What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

As MS affects the nervous system, the symptoms can be complex. However, there are some symptoms that occur commonly. Early symptoms can include dizziness, vision and balance problems, and difficulty with fine motor movements. Fatigue affects around 96% of sufferers. Half report cognitive and memory impairment, and 75% bladder problems. People with MS also commonly experience muscle pain, stiffness or weakness, and anxiety or depression.

Most MS sufferers find they experience alternating periods when their symptoms are worse and better. This is called ‘relapsing and remitting’. For around 15%, though, there is a steady decline. The progression of MS is unpredictable.

The nature of MS means that no two experiences of the condition are exactly alike.

How can a physio provide therapy for multiple sclerosis?

Each unique MS journey needs a unique programme of intervention. Research shows the earlier that happens, the better the nervous system can adapt.

A physiotherapist’s role is to create a bespoke plan that tackles the issues facing each patient. As part of a rehabilitation programme, physiotherapy can reduce pain and muscle spasm. It can improve fitness and mobility, and maintain wellbeing and independence.

What is physiotherapy for multiple sclerosis like?

Your physiotherapist will undertake a thorough assessment to get a good understanding of how your condition is affecting you. This includes a physical and a neurological examination, as well as talking about the issues that face you in your everyday life. The physiotherapist will talk to you about the things that are important to you. That way, your treatment plan can be tailored to help you achieve your personal objectives.

The role of exercise in therapy for multiple sclerosis

Exercise has enormous benefits for people with MS. It combats mobility and balance problems, improves posture and coordination, and enhances mood and wellbeing. Your physiotherapist will plan a programme of exercise according to your abilities and preferences. This will aim to to improve your cardiovascular health and your muscle strength.

Most people with MS experience fatigue. This can lead to a negative loop – people experiencing fatigue may reduce their activity levels. This in turn can lead to loss of muscle strength and fitness, which has a negative impact on disease progression, and greater fatigue. Research suggests that moderate aerobic exercise can have a positive impact on fatigue, breaking this ‘vicious cycle’.

Physiotherapy advice

Beyond their role in the clinic, physiotherapists can offer a lot of support and advice to help you manage in your daily life. This might include how to make small changes to help you conserve your energy levels. It might mean helping you find equipment to assist in everyday activities or showing you how to sit or sleep comfortably.

Your physiotherapist can also talk to other members of your care team, or those at home who support you, to ensure you receive a consistent package of care.

Here at the College Practice in North West London, our neurophysiotherapist Patricia Beck – is expertly placed to provide guidance, support and therapy for multiple sclerosis. Book an appointment, or feel free to contact for advice. We’re here to help and support you.