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How Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Help Those with Multiple Sclerosis

A physical therapist helps a senior man do balance exercises

What is multiple sclerosis?

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.” While the exact cause of MS is unknown, scientists do know that it is an immune-mediated disease in which the immune system has an abnormal reaction and launches an attack on the body’s central nervous system (CNS), including the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The resulting damage to nerve fibers alters or stops messages that normally travel along those pathways. The scar tissue that forms on the damaged areas is what gives the disease its name: multiple sclerosis, meaning multiple areas of scarring.

Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

There are more than a dozen multiple sclerosis treatments and ways the disease can be managed. Rehabilitation strategies, including specialized multiple sclerosis occupational therapy and multiple sclerosis physical therapy, can help individuals with MS improve and maintain function. Let’s take a look at these two types of therapy and how each works to improve the lives of those affected by MS.

What is physical therapy?

The purpose of physical therapy is to evaluate and improve the body’s movement and physical functioning. A physical therapist will employ techniques such as specific exercises, gait/walking training, and the use of mobility aids such as a cane or wheelchair. Physical therapy can help improve the patient’s mobility and walking, increase strength and muscle condition, reduce fatigue, ease pain, improve posture and address bladder issues. For people with MS, the goal is to safely maintain independence and optimal functioning of physical abilities.

What is occupational therapy?

With respect to people with MS, occupational therapy focuses on the everyday activities of life and ways to conserve energy to reduce fatigue. This is accomplished through the use of adaptive tools and devices that make tasks easier. An occupational therapist may also recommend modifications to an individual’s home to make it safer and easier to navigate. Occupational therapists may also evaluate and treat problems with thinking and memory, which are common symptoms of MS. As with physical therapy, the goal of occupational therapy is to help people with MS remain as independent, productive and safe as possible.

How does physical therapy help multiple sclerosis?

Because MS can be unpredictable, a physical therapist can play an integral role in helping a patient manage physical symptoms throughout the course of the disease. At the time of diagnosis, a physical therapist can provide education and resources for both the patient and their family members. A comprehensive physical therapy examination will help document baselines for physical abilities, identify existing challenges, and set up a plan of exercise.

When the disease is in a stable state, the therapist can monitor the individual’s mobility, make changes to their program of exercise, and help the patient remain motivated to continue exercising even when they don’t “feel sick.” When a relapse occurs, the physical therapist will work with the individual to adjust their personalized exercise program in ways that will accommodate symptoms, while safely working to regain or improve mobility and other physical abilities. A physical therapist can also help individuals with MS learn to use adaptive equipment and assistive devices.

How can occupational therapy help treat MS?

MS causes disabilities of varying degrees. An accredited occupational therapist will evaluate and identify current or potential areas of difficulty, and work with the individual to address functions involved in self-care such as bathing and dressing, productive activities such as home management and volunteer work, and social and recreational activities.

An occupational therapy treatment plan for multiple sclerosis will often entail programs for education and prevention, as well as compensating for restricted abilities, balancing independence with help from others, and even using smart equipment to make independence as safe as possible with limited restrictions. The ultimate goal is for the individual to enjoy self-management and dignity. By making occupations and everyday tasks possible, occupational therapists not only make life easier, but also offer hope to people dealing with MS.

Accessing physical and occupational therapy services

Certified physical and occupational therapists can be found in a number of different settings. An outpatient rehabilitation center is often the first choice, thanks to its ease of access. Seniors living with MS may find that a senior living community — with lifestyle options ranging from independent living to assisted living and skilled nursing with on-campus rehabilitation services — not only provides all the care they may need in one place, but also offers a lifestyle that will encourage and empower them to remain active and independent. These types of communities offer priceless peace of mind for seniors, as well as their family members, who rest easy knowing their loved one has 24/7 access to any assistance they may need.

You’ll find unmatched, personalized rehabilitation care at South Port Square’s Harbour Health Center. Recognized by U.S. News & World Report for Best Nursing Home Short-Term Rehabilitation 2019-2020, our skilled, caring professionals will work with you to develop an individualized plan of rehabilitation to get you back to an active life as quickly as possible. To learn more, call 941-315-6079.