MS Exercises at Home: Diagrams, Tips, and Resources

“Exercise is Essential”
June 11, 2014

There is finally much positive buzz about how essential exercising is for people with MS: Overall health: stress reduction; weight control; improving fatigue (yes!), endurance, strength; improving symptoms like balance & coordination, insomnia–the list is long.

A recent article in Neurology Now magazine states:

Exercise is a struggle for most of us, but more so for those who live with neurologic disabilities and physical limitations. In addition to the usual barriers of motivation and time, people with disabilities face extra challenges such as finding the right equipment and facilities. It’s no surprise then that they are significantly more likely to be sedentary than people without disabilities, increasing their risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

“People who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury or been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis or another chronic neurologic disease get even more debilitated when they sit around,” says Michael J. Reding, M.D., the former director of stroke rehabilitation at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, NY. “Inactivity can make other problems, such as osteoporosis, constipation, and pressure sores, worse. The more mobile and active a person is, the greater their sense of well-being and life satisfaction and the easier it is for caregivers,” Dr. Reding says.

In addition, Founder: DaveBexfield, has this to offer: “If folks are interested in the research behind exercise and MS, I’ve collected the abstracts of most of the studies released in the past five years. Virtually all are positive.”

Nowadays, there is also an overabundance of information available to explain which ones to do and how to do them–most in a piecemeal fashion and often confusing. There are classes offered by places like MS organizations and health clubs to attend. All with the caveat to talk to your health professional first about what is right for you.

But many people with MS would like to do it alone, in the comfort of their home. Often the unpredictability of MS will dictate how long or what types of exercises can be done on a particular day. Transportation, time issues and how you feel when you wake are also realistic obstacles to going out for an exercise program. Let’s face it, sometimes making arrangements, getting dressed and going out can be exhausting even before you get started with a planned exercise activity.

I have four sets of exercise programs with explanations and diagrams that a MSer can do:

• Stretching Exercises
• Balance and Coordination Exercises
• Home Exercise Program
• Lower Extremity Exercises

Here is the link where the “How-To Charts” can be found and viewed . If you already exercise, there may be some additional tools in these charts for your arsenal.

The sources of these diagrams are credible, acquired from Banner Hospital and the National MS Society. They were designed by physical therapists for persons with MS. So many of these exercises can be done while sitting at a desk, watching TV, talking on the phone, or standing at the sink; there is no need to set a block of time aside to do a structured regime every day.

Let common sense prevail when starting/maintaining an exercising program. Always start with warm-ups and let your body guide you with regard to length of time, # of repetitions, etc. Start slowly, build up over time, and stop when you start feeling tired, heated, or doing something that causes pain.

The following are some excellent articles to read about Exercising and MS:

1. “Exercising Your Options” (Benefits of Exercise) InforMS: Rocky Mountain MS Ctr.

2. “Exercise for Everyone” (Creative Ways to Stay Fit) Neurology Now Magazine

3. “Keep Moving” (Tips to enjoy favorite summer activities.) NMSS Momentum

4. “MS Exercises and Guidelines”

If you don’t exercise, it is imperative that you start today! With these how-to diagrams, you can pick and choose what is right for you.
Author, MS Counselor, Living with MS

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Exercise

“Keep Moving or You will Stop Moving”

One of the National MS Society’s slogans is “MS Stops People from Moving”. True. But in my opinion, this is an area where we can fight back—by exercising.

Exercise is one of the most important things a person with MS can do, and some type of exercise should be done everyday if possible. Done properly, exercise will never hurt you; however, not exercising will.

For starters, just like normal people without a disability it makes us look good, feel good, keeps or takes the weight off, and reduces stress. Exercise benefits overall health from our cardiovascular system to our digestive system. As we age, it helps to slow muscle breakdown and increase strength.

Most people with MS over time will develop some or many problems with things such as balance, coordination, muscle weakness and ataxia, spasticity, endurance…. There are many types of exercises one can do to effectively help these problems.

When one of these symptoms develops, it is important to start doing exercises tailored to address each symptom as soon as it begins, and then continuing everyday afterward. Make it part of your daily agenda, just like brushing your teeth in the morning. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to overcome the problem, like weakness or balance.

In addition, putting off exercising can lead to further difficulties. For example, weakened trunk or abdominal muscles could eventually lead to a curvature of the spine that will cause poor posture, pain, and at some point an inability to correct.

Exercise for MS falls basically fall into these categories:

1. Muscle Stretching – muscles get tight from sitting/lying down a lot or due to the very common symptom of spasticity that causes tightness and spasms.

2. Muscle Strengthening – muscles get weak from less use, misuse, or just from the disease itself.

3. Muscle Balance – means to maintain or improve the alignment and relationship muscles have to each other.

4. Aerobics – exercises for overall endurance and healthy maintenance of our heart, respiratory, digestive and other body systems.

5. Relaxation and Breathing – to alleviate all types of stress, improve mood, help reduce pain.

For beginners, it is a good idea to start out slowly and ease into a routine that works for you. Do not do things that hurt, because then you will create additional problems for yourself.

Find a physical therapist that understands MS and has worked with MS patients. They understand the sensitivity to heat, and what types of exercises are best to begin with an individual’s needs. Also, there are many programs offered by various MS organizations that are offered and designed for multiple sclerosis symptoms. These classes include techniques such as tai chi, pilates and yoga for strengthening, balance and relaxation.

Aquatic therapy is fantastic for persons with MS, as all five categories listed above can be accomplished in a pool. A swimming pool adds the additional benefit of safety, buoyancy and coolness of the water. Again, many MS organizations offer these types of programs through their local chapters as well as local health clubs/organizations. (Note: see Aquatic Therapy for )


Now all types of exercises do not have to be done everyday, and many can be incorporated into a daily activity. I’ll use myself as an example:

I have been a swimmer all of my life, and when I developed MS, swimming became my #1 form of exercise. Three times a week, I have religiously gone in the pool to stretch, exercise, and practice things I had/have trouble doing on land (like standing, walking, and balancing).

On days when I’m not in the pool, I get on the floor and do a variety of exercises. I have learned what to do over the years from my dancing days, physical therapy, TV/tapes, etc. I am still able to lie on my back and pull my knees up to my chest and rock from side to side, which feels ‘painfully good’ for my severe back pain from the spasticity. My goal is a 45-minute workout, but if I’m too fatigued, I’ll give myself a vacation day from it or minimize it to five or ten minutes.

Throughout the day, I’ve learned to keep bending and stretching by trying to do some light housekeeping. Again, I do what I can do, but when my body starts screaming “enough!” I quit, lie down and rest. If there is a period of time I can’t do these things because of a relapse, for instance, my physical therapist has taught me gentle exercises I can do for each part of my body (such as head/shoulder rolls, arm extensions…) Minimally, if I have no energy at all, my husband will stretch my legs and back for me, which helps my spasticity tremendously.

Over the years, I suffered much from weakness and fatigue, so I relied on assistive devices to help maintain correct posture and conserve energy. It gave me more opportunities to do my daily exercises, which really is physical therapy.

I have started making videos to demonstrate exercises that I have done for years and continue to do. They can be viewed on my website. (On the ‘Videos’ page, just click on the chosen line item.) You may get some ideas and tips from them, but keep in mind I have been doing these for years and my endurance level is high.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Getting started with anything is the hardest part of doing something new. If you are not exercising regularly, get started today—you will be glad you did.

Aquatic Therapy for MS and Everyone

Wha-hoo! My pool is now open for the next seven months.

As soon as the water gets to seventy degrees, it’s time. Now seventy degrees sounds very cold, but when I am constantly moving around it isn’t. Cold temperatures speed up nerve conduction, allowing me more ability to exercise in a variety of ways. However, a person with arthritis or other chronic illness would want the water warmer (84 degrees is ideal).

One of the reasons I moved to Arizona was to have use of my own pool for therapy. I had a hydraulic lift installed so that I could do a good workout in the pool and not worry about getting out when I am done. Insurance covered 80% of my lift, but I had to fight with them to pay for it and finally after three appeals they did.

Exercise is one of the most important things a person with MS can do. Or anyone for that matter.

I have been a swimmer all of my life, and when I developed MS, swimming became my #1 form of exercise. Three times a week, I have religiously gone into the pool to stretch, exercise, and practice things I had/have trouble doing on land (like standing, walking, and balancing). I have done this for thirty years.

I do a 45-minute workout, but if I’m exceptionally tired I don’t push it and five or ten minutes is better than nothing. Beginners will have to start out slowly and work their way up in time and intensity.

The enormous benefits of swimming are:

* Improves circulation; reduces edema.
* Benefits the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
* All muscles get a workout for stretching, strengthening and endurance.
* Enables excellent practice for things that are difficult to do on land,
such as standing, walking, balancing, and improving posture.
* Provides safety from slipping and falling.
* Exercises in cool water are easier.
* Benefits overall health, constipation.
* Relieves stress/provides relaxation.
* Helps burn calories to keep the weight off.

On days when I’m not in the pool, I get on the floor and do a variety of exercises that I learned from my dancing days, physical therapy and videos.

Before I had my own pool, I used to swim at the YMCA for years. MS Associations have information about aquatic therapy online, and many local chapters offer/arrange aquatic therapy.

People always say that infamous MS saying to me—“You look so good!” I do look good, and even on days when I feel like crap, a little swim does help me feel a little better. You will too!
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS