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Living With Multiple Sclerosis

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Did you know?

Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the world, with an estimated 1 in every 340 Canadians living with the disease. While it is most often diagnosed in young adults aged 15 to 40, younger children and older adults are also diagnosed with the disease.

MS is unpredictable and can cause symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes. Its effects can be physical, emotional and financial. Currently there is no cure, but each day researchers are learning more about what causes MS and are zeroing in on ways to prevent it.

The Impact of EXERCISE – What the research shows

“Historically, individuals living with multiple sclerosis were advised to avoid physical exertion for fear that physical activity will make them feel worse. On one hand, the symptoms associated with MS can make participating in physical activity challenging: disability can hinder mobility and lead to significant pain and fatigue, while overheating during strenuous physical activity is a real risk for people living with MS. On the other hand, limiting physical activity can have negative health consequences and potentially lead to even greater weakness and fatigue in the long-run. Over the past few decades, new research has uncovered considerable benefits associated with increased physical activity, and perceptions among the MS community have shifted toward encouraging a more active lifestyle.” – MS Society of Canada

The Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

“An American study published in 1996 was largely responsible for shifting the paradigm regarding attitudes toward exercise and MS. Dr. Jack Petajan (University of Utah) and colleagues 1 examined the effects of 15 weeks of aerobic exercise in people with MS compared to those who did not participate in exercise. They found that those who participated in the exercise program experienced reduced fatigue, depression and anger and improved overall quality of life. Many studies have since then supported the notion that physical activity, whether it be exercise or other forms of fitness and movement, is safe and beneficial for individuals living with MS, and is now recognized as an important part of care 2.” – MS Society of Canada

Goals of exercise in people living with MS

  • Improve aerobic endurance

  • Improve muscular strength and endurance

  • Improve flexibility and general mobility for activities of daily living

  • Prevent secondary diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) or diabetes

  • Maintain independence

  • Enhance quality of life

  • Improve cognitive functioning due to the beneficial effects of physical activity on brain health

As movement experts, physical therapists design exercise programs for people living with MS regardless of what disease stage. These exercise programs are focused on achieving the above goals while helping people continue to perform their roles in their home and in the community; reducing the burden on family members and caregivers. Physical therapists will also work with family members and care givers to provide support and insight into how to improve safety and manage the needs of a loved one with MS.

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