Five things you need to know about Physical Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

Five things you need to know about Physical Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most common neurologic diseases in young adults. It is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 50. Symptoms vary by individual but can include walking and balance difficulties, fatigue, weakness, muscle stiffness or spasms, pain, sensory changes, vision problems, speech and swallowing issues, dizziness, vertigo, thinking and memory deficits, and urinary and sexual dysfunction. The clinical course of MS typically includes relapses (worsening of symptoms) and remissions (periods when symptoms improve). While there is no cure, people with MS tend to live a normal lifespan and can successfully manage their symptoms by partnering with a medical and rehabilitation team. If you have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, here are five things you should know about physical therapy (PT).

1. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach. At your first visit, your physical therapist will conduct a full evaluation of your abilities and limitations. They will work with you to address your goals and increase your success at participating in activities that matter to you. Your program is always tailored to your individual needs, resources, and interests. It can be modified at any time.

2. Start as early as possible. Because physical therapists are movement experts, we often notice minor changes in your movements, postures, and breathing patterns that, if left unaddressed, can lead to bad habits, pain, and worsening of your condition. Research shows that such changes may occur early in MS. Asking for a PT referral as soon as you are diagnosed increases the likelihood that small problems don’t become big ones. Your physical therapist can establish an individualized exercise program to maximize your mobility and introduce you to resources to help you live well.

3. This is a long-term relationship. Just as you change over time, so does your MS. While physical therapy should start early, it benefits people at all stages of the disease. Just as regular visits with your neurologist optimize your medication regimen, recurring episodes of PT ensure you’re staying on track with your mobility. Once a PT establishes your baseline function in your first course of therapy, he or she will be able to determine changes in your status over time and communicate these with your physician. If needed, your PT will modify your exercise program, make equipment and safety recommendations, suggest alterations to your environment and daily routine, educate your care partners, and advocate for additional supportive resources.

4. There are different types of physical therapists. All physical therapists are educated and licensed to treat MS. However, some specialize in a particular area, such as therapy for neurologic disorders, vestibular rehabilitation (therapy for dizziness and vertigo), or pelvic floor (treatment for incontinence or sexual dysfunction). Seek out a physical therapist experienced in treating patients with multiple sclerosis and your specific symptoms. Often physical therapists work on a team that includes other rehabilitation professionals. Your physical therapist might guide you to one of these team members if he or she thinks you may also benefit from the services. For example, occupational therapy addresses difficulties with daily activities like bathing, dressing, and fine motor tasks. Speech therapy may be recommended if you have speech or swallowing problems.

5. PT works! People with MS who exercise have better cardiovascular fitness, strength, balance, cognition, bladder and bowel function; less fatigue and depression; and increased participation in social activities. Partner with a physical therapist now to build an individualized exercise program to achieve your best function and quality of life.

Dr. Kristina Dorkoski is a physical therapist and Board-Certified Neurologic Clinical Specialist on the neurologic and vestibular team at Allied Services Wilkes-Barre Rehab Center. Dr. Dorkoski serves as an MS Partner in Care for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Call 570.826.3900 to start your referral or find a convenient location near you.

Learn more about rehabilitation programs for Multiple Sclerosis and other neurological conditions.