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Staying Mobile With Multiple Sclerosis

Posted on April 01, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Amy Isler, RN

A multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis does not have to mean that you have to lose your independence and mobility. Finding ways to stay active can help improve your ability to work and socialize. It can also boost your overall quality of life by making day-to-day tasks and activities easier to complete.

Below are helpful suggestions to improve your mobility and stay active, including ways to adapt your home and car and to use mobility aids and service dogs.

Adapting Your Home

Adapting your living space for safety, mobility, and tranquility is an essential task if you’ve been diagnosed with MS. Important factors for you or a caregiver to consider include:

  • Accessibility — Remember to leave open space for mobility aids and ensure access to important areas of the house.
  • Ease of use — Make sure that items and spaces are organized for ease of use and that frequently used items are within reach. Use large print where possible, and remove clutter to make finding things easier.
  • Safety — Plan emergency exit routes and keep cords and clutter away from high foot-traffic areas to prevent trips. Consider installing eye-level peepholes on your front door, as well as an intercom system and electric door locks.
  • Style — Decorate your home to provide a sense of comfort, taking into account good lighting, warm colors, temperature, and ventilation. Incorporate pleasant scents (such as with flowers, plants, candles, or a diffuser) and calming sounds (like wind chimes, music, or nature sounds).

Adjusting Your Car

Driving a car is a significant part of independence for many people. Various symptoms of MS, including cognitive changes (memory loss, impaired vision, and slow processing time) and spasticity (muscle stiffness and weakness) can make driving challenging. However, with professional assistance, a car can be adapted with special equipment to make it safe for someone with MS symptoms to drive.

Common car adaptive equipment includes:

  • Hand controls for the gas and brake
  • Spinner knob for turning the steering wheel
  • Adaptive steering and braking
  • Wide-angle rear-view mirror
  • Specialized seats
  • Wheelchair lifts
  • Tie-downs to secure mobility-assistive devices

Mobility Aids

Some MS symptoms can affect your ability to walk safely and effectively, including muscle weakness, fatigue, poor balance and coordination, and numbness. But many devices and aids can help preserve mobility and independence as MS symptoms start to progress. As one MyMSTeam member said, “My mobility is poor. I use a rollator around my bungalow and have a mobility scooter for outside.”

Following are several mobility aids that may meet your needs.

Orthoses (Braces)

An ankle foot orthosis (AFO) can help manage foot drop, which occurs when the foot muscles are too weak to lift while walking. Worn around the ankle and under the shoe, an AFO keeps the wearer’s ankle in a stable position. This can help stop a person’s toe from dropping and catching on something (e.g., the carpet or a low curb) that could cause a fall.

Functional Electrical Stimulation

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) devices are also designed to prevent foot drop. FES devices are essentially small, battery-powered control boxes with electrodes. Worn below the knee, they utilize mild electrical currents to stimulate nerves associated with lifting the leg and foot. FES devices may help you walk long distances and are generally easy to wear.

Canes

Canes are a good, portable option if you have poor balance or feel unsteady when you walk. Single-point canes are the most common. As their name suggests, they have a single point that touches the floor. Multipoint or quad canes have four points that touch the floor and are capable of standing on their own. Quad canes may provide better support.

Crutches

Crutches can help provide extra support while walking, but you need to have good upper-body function to use them safely. Underarm crutches are used on a temporary basis for lower extremity weakness or injury, while forearm crutches can be used long-term and are generally more comfortable.

Walkers and Wheeled Walkers (Rollators)

Walkers also provide stability while you walk and offer a wider base of support compared to canes and crutches. The height can usually be adjusted, and many walkers can fold for easy storage. Standard walkers are available with or without wheels.

Rollators, on the other hand, are wheeled walkers that are easier to maneuver. Rollators also come with additional features, such as a seat bench, basket, and hand brakes.

Manual Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs offer you mobility while you are sitting, thereby reducing your risk of falling. Manual models can either be used independently by rotating the wheel rims or with the assistance of an attendant or caregiver. Some wheelchairs are foldable and can be easily stored in a vehicle for transport.

Pushrim-Activated Power-Assist Wheelchairs

Pushrim-activated power-assist wheelchairs (PAPAWs) are like manual wheelchairs, but include a motor to reduce the effort required to move them. They are good for maneuvering over unlevel surfaces such as ramps, carpet, grass, curbs, and gravel. PAPAWs allow for seated mobility and help conserve your energy while you’re traveling long distances.

Motorized Scooters

Motorized scooters allow you to travel long distances with little or no physical effort, helping you conserve your energy. Using a scooter requires the ability to sit and stand from a seated position. They also require hand dexterity to control the steering mechanism.

Stretches and Staying Active

Stretching and staying active are some of the best ways to improve MS symptoms and decrease pain and fatigue. Experts recommend that people with MS stretch for 10 minutes per day, such as with yoga or tai chi. Moderate aerobic exercise and activities, like walking, jogging, or swimming, can also help get your heart rate up and help relieve muscle tightness and stiffness. Read more about exercise and MS.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Rehabilitation with physical and occupational therapy is an essential part of managing MS symptoms, helping to improve all levels of daily function. The goal of rehab therapy is to maximize your independence and participation in everyday life.

Physical therapy is designed to focus on all aspects of your mobility both at home and in the community. A physical therapist can help address the symptoms that decrease and restrict mobility such as muscle weakness, spasticity, and poor balance.

Occupational therapy is designed to focus on activities of daily living that are necessary to stay independent. An occupational therapist can provide tools and strategies to make certain tasks — such as chores around the house, dressing, bathing, cooking, and working at a job — more manageable with MS.

Choosing the Right Shoes

Comfortable shoes that fit are another essential item that people diagnosed with MS must consider. When choosing footwear, look for:

  • Light tread and weight
  • Secure fastening
  • A broad base for stability
  • Extra depth, which can accommodate orthotics
  • A firm and low heel to help with balance
  • The correct size, to ensure blood flow and stability
  • Sturdiness to avoid side-to-side movements

Service Dogs

Adopting a service dog to assist with mobility and daily living can make for a great addition to your family if you have the funds, time, and commitment to work with them. Three types of assistance dogs are trained to help with different types of conditions and symptoms:

  • Guide dogs are trained to guide people with visual impairments.
  • Hearing dogs are trained to alert sounds (such as a doorbell, alarm clock, or telephone) for people who have difficulty hearing.
  • Service dogs are trained in a wide variety of activities, including pulling a wheelchair, retrieving items, and alerting their owners or others to a medical crisis.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with multiple sclerosis and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 165,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.

How have you remained mobile with MS? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMSTeam.

Resources:

  1. Staying Mobile — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  2. Importance of Mobility for Quality of Life in Patients With Multiple Sclerosis — Clinical Neurophysiology
  3. At Home With MS: Adapting Your Environment — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  4. Driving With Multiple Sclerosis — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  5. How to Choose the Mobility Device That Is Right for You: A Guide for People With MS — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  6. Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise: Why MS Patients Should Stay Active — Penn Medicine
  7. Managing MS Through Rehabilitation — National Multiple Sclerosis Society
  8. No Glass Slippers: What To Look for in Footwear — Momentum
  9. Looking for an Assistance Dog — Assistance Dogs International
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Amy Isler, RN is a registered nurse with over six years of experience as a credentialed school nurse. Learn more about her here.

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