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If MS patients plan to seek alternative methods to improve their gait, they should first consult with their regular physician.

Having multiple sclerosis can seriously impact an individual’s daily life, including very general activities that seem second nature, like walking. When ambulation becomes difficult due to a flare up of symptoms, or a relapse, of multiple sclerosis, it can practically shut down the ability to be independent and seriously affects the quality of life. Even worse, permanent damage can cause problems walking even between relapses, which means that a patient may have to make concessions and change their lifestyle in order to cope.

What are some of the most important things to know about coping with changes in gait due to MS?

1. Changing the environment

When patients start to stiffen or quake while walking, it can lead to difficulty even navigating their own homes. If the problems are serious, it will likely behoove an MS patient to get some help rearranging the environment. This usually involves moving furniture to create wider walkways and paths through rooms, which can even result in minimizing the amount of furniture to create more room. In addition, it may be necessary to change flooring. If the patient has tile or hard wood throughout, it’s easy to slip on these surfaces, and adding rugs that don’t shift can assist greatly with reducing falls.

2. Walking assistance

Sometimes, the pain can be crippling, and even medication doesn’t help the MS patient relax. Still, patients have to get around, and that means being able to walk to get to the restroom or even just to move from one seat to the other, as staying in one position too long makes things worse. Using a cane or even a walker can significantly reduce the difficulty in getting around, and, while the patient may protest, the solution is definitely a viable one, especially if the individual wants to maintain independence.

3. Therapy

In MS patients, difficulty walking is one of the main symptoms. In early stages, it’s typically not a permanent problem but, rather, a sign of a relapse. However, over time – especially if treatment isn’t involved – that can worsen, as nerves become damaged and muscles don’t get proper signals, leading to tissue death. Physical therapy can help, regardless of whether or not the disease is advanced. For those in the early stages, it can help teach MS patients how to best utilize their muscles and limbs, despite problems with ambulation. In more progressed cases, the patients can learn how to cope and use tools to assist in walking, keeping the remaining tissues healthy and responding.

4. The work environment

Hopefully, patients with multiple sclerosis have places of work that adjust to their needs and provide for those with disabilities. When the issues with walking interfere with your ability to get around at work, find out what else the company may be able to do to assist with adapting the environment and the job to meet the additional needs. For example, they may be able to relocate the patient to a desk that is nearer the exits, offer special seating that assists with getting up and down, or even provide other accommodations that increase the person’s ability to retain production levels while working, as well as to help the person feel more secure in being able to come to work without issues.

5. Medication

There are medications that can assist with ambulation when MS flares up. in some cases, over the counter pain pills and anti-inflammatories can help ease the pain and inflammation that lead to the hardship. Speaking to a doctor is a good idea, if the issue with walking becomes debilitating. A physician may prescribe steroid treatment, if the patient is not already on them, or the dose may be increased to assist with the flare up. In cases where the difficulty doesn’t go away with a remission, the doctor will likely want to investigate with a few tests to see if there has been permanent damage to the nerves that control ambulation or the muscles that they control. In some cases, a physician may also offer prescription strength pain relievers, including opioids, that can assist in reducing pain and allowing the patient to move easier. Muscle relaxers may also assist in this manner.

6. Alternative therapies

If MS patients plan to seek alternative methods to improve their gait, they should first consult with their regular physician. It’s important for the doctor to know everything the patient is doing for treatment so he can help track what helps or works against the treatments he prescribes. Other options for alternative and complementary therapies include:

  • Acupuncture is an ancient medical practice that derives from spiritual healing practices in the Far East. However, modern science (western medicine) has also begun to see a correlation between the “energy lines” in which needles are inserted and the functional points of specific nerves and neural pathways in the body. Acupuncture may actually assist in improving gait, but this has not been proven.
  • Herbs and spices sometimes have anti-inflammatory properties and adding them to the patient’s diet or having the patient consume some of these in another way may bring down inflammation in areas that affect the ability to walk normally or comfortably. It’s important to discuss these with a physician first, since some may work against treatments already prescribed or could activate the immune system to work even harder, leading to a flare up of MS symptoms rather than relief.
  • Massage is another great option, though again, there are no guarantees based on medical evaluation that this will make any changes to the way a multiple sclerosis patient walk. Speaking to a doctor first could help assist in finding the right kind of massage to try and a reputable source from which to get the massage.

Conclusion

It’s important to keep in mind that, in most cases, ambulatory issues are temporary and fade away with other symptoms in a remission. This offers some hope, since the patient can look forward to the relief, and that can help them cope with the short-term effects. And for those who don’t have remissions or who have permanent damage leading to their difficulty walking, combining some of the treatments and environmental changes can be life altering, helping them to keep their independence and reduce the pain and suffering of the issues walking.

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