March was also Multiple Sclerosis awareness month and this is another condition that physical therapists can also help treat.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

“Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, usually progressive, disease that primarily affects young adults. More than 350,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide have been diagnosed with MS. Its effects vary widely. Although there is no known cure for the disease, it can be successfully controlled with medical management and rehabilitation. Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that involves the loss of myelin, a material that covers and protects the nerves in the body’s central nervous system. Without myelin, nerves cannot properly communicate with each other. Multiple Sclerosis symptoms vary from person to person, depending on what part of the nervous system is affected, including structures that control movement, sensation, and mental processes. However, more than 91% of all persons with MS report difficulty walking, and difficulty with body movements.

Although MS is rarely fatal, its complications can be severe, including difficulty with breathing, injury due to falls, and a general lack of mobility. With appropriate medical support and physical therapy, the disease process can be controlled, and movement can be improved and maintained.”

MS and Physical Therapy

“Physical therapy for people with MS focuses on helping them return to the roles performed at home, work, and in the community. Your first visit to physical therapy will consist of a complete examination to determine your areas of strength and weakness. Following the examination, your physical therapist will develop a specific exercise program for you based on your condition and goals, including a home-exercise program.

Research studies have found that people in the early stages of MS may experience changes in their walking ability, balance, and breathing. If ignored, these early signs can lead to further disability. When someone receives a diagnosis of MS, the best option is to begin physical therapy right away to help improve any mild challenges, and possibly slow down the progression of the symptoms of the disease.

Exercise programs

Types of exercises beneficial for someone with early MS are aerobic training using a treadmill, rowing machine, or any type of stationary bike, strengthening, balance training, and stretching. In general, the program should be based on the individual’s ability and progressed at that person’s tolerance level. The goal of physical therapy in the early stages of MS is to help you perform all your normal activities.

As MS progresses, further disability can occur. Research in physical therapy has identified benefits for people with MS in many areas after completing different types of exercise programs. Aerobic exercise, using equipment, such as an elliptical machine, a treadmill, or a stationary bike can improve your leg strength, walking and exercise endurance, balance, and mood.

General strengthening

Other types of exercise therapy include general strengthening for arms and legs, balance training, stretching activities, and relaxation techniques. These types of exercise have been found to improve walking ability, leg strength, and general balance during normal activities.

Aquatic therapy

People with MS may find aquatic exercise a beneficial way to increase their activity. Pool temperature can help maintain a normal core body temperature during exercise to support your general strength. The buoyancy of the water can offer support for people who cannot walk on solid ground, and provide gentle resistance to exercise movements. The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America strongly supports the use of aquatic therapies for people with MS. A list of MS aquatic programs can be found at

Tai Chi and yoga

Programs that include Tai Chi and yoga may also be beneficial for people with MS. Tai Chi is a low-intensity, movement-based form of exercise that can be performed in standing or sitting positions. Deep breathing is included in the technique. Yoga includes breath work, exercises for strengthening and flexibility, and meditation or relaxation techniques. A physical therapist trained in these programs will modify these exercises specifically for each individual’s needs and goals.

All adults should complete at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week (30 minute sessions, 5 days a week), per the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans developed by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in partnership with the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.”

Choosing a Physical Therapist

“All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat Mutiple Sclerosis. However, MS is a unique condition and you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with neurological conditions, specifically Multiple Sclerosis.
  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who has completed a residency or fellowship in neurologic physical therapy and uses the designation NCS. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to this condition.
  • Physical therapists who have earned a Multiple Sclerosis Certified Specialist (MSCS) certification from the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC), and have spent a minimum of at least 1 year working with MS patients and have passed a required exam.

General tips when you’re looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.
  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists’ experience in helping people who have multiple sclerosis.
  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe the physical issues and symptoms that are causing the most difficulty.
  • Plan to talk about what goals are most important to help increase the patient’s independence performing daily activities, and ensure a healthy future.”



For more information about MS visit: