Weakness and fatigue are two MS symptoms that are often mistaken for one another. While they are closely related, they are still different, and should be treated as such. An MS patient may experience weakness without actually feeling fatigue. Weakness is a symptom that appears when patients are unable to perform the simple daily activities, such as getting dressed, cooking, or even folding laundry.
This happens when the nerves inside your body are attacked, so they have trouble receiving the electrical signals that the brain sends throughout the body. The myelin which protects these nerves is damaged, which means the nerves are no longer protected, and therefore fail to function as they should.
What is muscle weakness?
Because the nerve tissue gets damaged, people that suffer from multiple sclerosis have trouble using these muscles as a healthy person would. Alternatively, some muscles begin to weaken the less you use them. This is where fatigue comes in. Since fatigue prevents MS patients from performing even some basic daily activities, their muscles aren’t trained as they should be, so they weaken in time
People that suffer from multiple sclerosis often discover that their muscles tire faster than usual. This is especially true for leg muscles, which causes MS patients to find difficulty in walking, thus further limiting their mobility.
Muscle weakness treatment
Weakness is typically an unavoidable MS symptom, which means that treatment for it will focus on slowing it down. Some of the most common types of medication for weakness in MS patients include muscle relaxants, plasma exchange, interferon beta therapy, and steroid drugs.
Exercise is a very important part of dealing with muscle weakness. Physicians typically create a personalized plan, which involved different types of cardio exercises, paired with strength-training activities. Aside from dealing with muscle weakness, this combo of exercises can also give MS patients more energy. In some cases, MS patients will experience muscle weakness simply because they aren’t used said muscles as they should, which can be prevented by a series of resistance exercises with weights.
It’s very important to consult a physical therapist before starting these exercises, because proper assessment of how much a patient’s body can handle is crucial. MS patients are more exposed to getting injured or over-stressing their bodies with physical activity, so the opinion and guidance of a specialist are a vital part of doing things right. For example, a person who has muscle weakness due to nerve fiber damage will need a different treatment strategy compared to someone who experiences weakness due to not using their muscles.
Trying to solve weakness related to MS is typically focused on staying active and using your muscles as much as possible, up to a decent limit where the physical activity doesn’t take a toll on the body. For example, weight-training exercises are focused on strengthening the muscles in the vicinity of the damaged ones.
There are several assistive devices that can help MS patients manages their muscle weakness, but most of them require the presence of a physical therapist that can teach the patient how to use these devices. The devices can be anything from walking canes, to braces, depending on the stage of weakness that each patient is currently experiencing.
Only a specialist is fit to determine what type of assistive device you need, based on the exact muscles and impairment you’re suffering at this given time. For instance, patients with foot drop will most likely need an ankle splint. This helps them prevent dragging their feet as they walk. With the help of a specialist, people can learn how to walk effectively, using such a device.
Loss of coordination and MS
The result of muscle weakness in MS patients is often the failure to coordinate movements. Muscle weakness can lead to falling which, in turn, can lead to serious injuries. People diagnosed with MS will fall as often as once per month, so this is not a matter to be taken lightly.
When a person’s muscles are weakened, they will have problems maintaining a proper balance while moving. Doctors now step forward to determine what is the cause of this imbalance. If it’s muscle weakness, the doctor will also determine if exercise or assistive devices (or both) are the best solutions.
Preparing for weakness
Despite the fact that there are means to keep it under control, MS patients should always be prepared for unexpected episodes of muscle weakness. Even the smallest sign of fatigue or loss of coordination should be taken seriously, along with measures of precaution.
When muscle weakness leads to difficulty in walking, people should avoid leaving the safety of their homes, in order to avoid falling. There are also a number of home improvements to undergo, to make sure that a house is a safe place. If you are suffering from muscle weakness, make sure that there are no wires or small objects that could be a potential tripping hazard. Always try to walk around the house in areas where you have sturdy furniture piece or walls that you can safely lean on in case you feel your leg muscles are getting weaker.
MS patients that experience weakness is sometimes too ashamed to ask for help, mostly because they want to avoid becoming dependent on assistive devices. If you know someone who suffers from MS and notices that they have troubles with weakness, offer them support and encourage them to take the next step towards consulting a doctor.
At the very first signs of excessive fatigue or muscle weakness, consult a doctor. Weakness is a very common MS symptom, and one that can’t be avoided, as the nerve tissue becomes scarred. Thankfully, individual plans and exercises have gone a long way towards helping MS patients cope with the problem. Just like it’s important to do constant memory exercises to improve your cognitive functions, physical exercises can improve the symptoms caused by muscle weakness.