Jelly legs, Jell-O legs, noodle legs — there are lots of ways to describe a weak or wobbly feeling in one or both legs from multiple sclerosis (MS). Leg weakness is common among people with MS and can result from nerve damage, fatigue, or inactivity. It may also signal an oncoming flare.
Here, we will look at jelly legs as a symptom of multiple sclerosis, including the causes and how to manage the symptom.
People with MS experience a variety of cognitive and physical symptoms. One of these physical (or “motor”) symptoms of MS is leg weakness, known familiarly as jelly legs. There are three different types of muscle weakness:
Note that it may be difficult for health care providers to distinguish between the three — especially when a person experiences all of them.
In short, primary muscle weakness (also known as “true” muscle weakness) leaves you unable to make your muscles do what you want them to do — often when trying a movement after a period of rest. One MyMSTeam member described how muscle weakness has made them feel like they’ve had to fight to get up. People with primary muscle weakness may struggle to begin walking after standing still. They also may have difficulty getting up the first step on a staircase.
People with asthenia can typically still use the affected muscle. They can start walking or climbing stairs with trouble, for example. However, performing such actions takes extra effort. In other words, the muscles themselves are not actually weaker, but getting them moving is more difficult.
Muscle fatigability is somewhat similar to muscle tiredness. As its name suggests, muscle fatigability refers to a person’s muscles becoming easily fatigued. A person may start activities or movements normally, but their muscles tire very quickly. They may also need more time than usual to recover from the activity or movement.
MyMSTeam members have many different experiences with jelly legs. One member reported that their MS left them feeling like they had "cement or prisoner balls and Jell-O" on their legs. Another member explained that, for no apparent reason, their knee “just buckles if I try to straighten or extend my left leg to a point where my knee is fully extended."
MyMSTeam members often describe jelly legs as an intermittent or occasional symptom: “My right leg feels like Jell-O. It lasts for 15–20 seconds, several times a day,” said one member.
Several factors may cause a person with MS to experience episodes of jelly legs. According to an article from BMC Neurology, people diagnosed with MS who are also sensitive to heat experience worse symptoms — including leg weakness — in extreme temperatures. As one MyMSTeam member shared, “If it is hot outside and I try to do a lot, my legs will give out or become like Jell-O.”
Another said, “Midwest humid summer days promote heavy MS legs for me.”
Some members experience jelly legs after exercise or when they’re especially fatigued: “I mowed my front yard today, and I got jelly legs again,” one member wrote.
Another shared, “If I push myself, I get pins and needles in my arms, and my legs go to jelly.”
Other MyMSTeam members notice leg weakness getting worse with stress, which occurs with many other MS symptoms.
If you experience jelly legs or leg muscle weakness with MS, talk to your health care team. They can determine what is contributing to the symptom and work with you to find ways of managing it.
Multiple Sclerosis Trust suggests that several factors contribute to muscle weakness in MS.
MS is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. These attacks damage the myelin coating of the nerves (a process called demyelination) as well as the nerves themselves. These attacks cause areas of damage, known as lesions, to form on the nerves. Lesions cause nerve messages to slow down or stop completely.
Damage to the nerves controlling the legs may result in weakness or muscle spasms (spasticity). Damaged nerve cells and nerve fibers are also responsible for many other MS symptoms, such as:
Fatigue is a common symptom of MS, affecting about 80 percent of people with the condition. Fatigue can indirectly result in jelly legs. Being fatigued may leave a person without enough energy to exercise or be generally active. Muscles that aren’t used regularly can become weakened or deconditioned, which may cause them to atrophy (shrink).
Jelly legs can be a sign of an MS relapse or a signal that the body needs a major break. “I know that when my vision starts to alter, my legs go all Jell-O-like, and I have word-finding problems, it's time to slow down and take a rest for a few hours, possibly days,” wrote one member.
Leg weakness can cause problems with walking and balance, potentially leading to falls. Finding ways to manage this weakness is important for preventing broken bones or other injuries from falling.
There are several ways to manage jelly legs with multiple sclerosis. In many cases, management of jelly legs begins with treating the underlying MS. Working closely with your doctor or neurologist can be the key. Seek medical advice before making any major changes to your lifestyle.
Physical therapy, exercise, rest, and other approaches may all also help.
Physical therapy can help people with MS manage leg weakness by improving their strength and balance. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society suggests working with a physical therapist and focusing on weight-related exercises, with gradual progression as your muscle weakness improves. You and the therapist can always switch up the program if your jelly legs are getting worse, too.
Many MyMSTeam members have shared their experiences trying physical therapy to work through their jelly legs. One member claimed that physical therapy “helped them out greatly,” while another shared, "You will see the results!"
MyMSTeam members advocate for staying as physically active as possible while following their doctors’ medical advice. One member shared that they were prescribed exercise by their neurologist. “I told my neurologist that my legs were getting weaker. He just said to keep on walking. I use a rollator, which is a walker with wheels and brakes. Actually, the more I walk with it, the stronger I get. Just keep moving.”
Another member wrote that they engaged in “ten minutes of exercise on a trampoline and balance board, as well as some other exercises.”
One MyMSTeam member touts exercise for muscle weakness — even when progress might not be obvious: “Exercise, like yoga, walking, and even squats will help maintain muscle, even though it doesn’t feel like there is improvement.”
In some cases, resting and pacing your physical activity are the best options, according to MyMSTeam members. “I have to just sit, rest, and wait it out,” one member commented.
“I have learned to pace myself,” another member added. “I walk a little way, stop a few minutes, then walk again.”
An assistive device, like a wheelchair or cane, may be necessary to help support you when your legs are feeling weak. This can allow you to stay mobile with multiple sclerosis.
MyMSTeam members also recommend using a disability placard for the car, which can be helpful for those whose jelly legs come on suddenly.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 168,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
Have you experienced legs that feel like jelly, noodles, or cement? Do you have some tips for managing and reducing muscle weakness? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts in a new post on MyMSTeam.