MS and Walking Problems

“Falling Down”

May 7, 2012

Most people with MS will fall down.  As careful as you try to be, it happens when
you least expect it.

I fell down two weeks ago and I am still recovering.  As I was getting up from my recliner, my knees suddenly buckled and I landed right on my tailbone.  It was probably a good thing that my back hit the end table as I fell.  I think it helped break the fall of dead weight hitting the floor and possibly preventing a broken bone.

Who knows?  I may have a slight fracture because my butt still hurts when I sit, but it is slowly getting better.  I held off from going to the doctor because the thought of X-rays and who knows what else a hospital would do was not something I wanted to deal with.  I didn’t want the added stress of all that added to the stress of the fall, plus all the germs I would be exposed to at the hospital.

I didn’t know if that was a smart decision at the time, but after the fact, in my own mind it was. The truth is, if I had been in severe pain or exceptionally immobile in a new way, I would have gone for a medical evaluation immediately or a day or two later.

There are so many symptoms of MS that make walking precarious, and it is probable that almost all people with MS have at least one of them.  Fatigue.  Dragging feet.  Weakness. Ataxia.  Toe or foot drop.  Poor coordination and balance.  Spasticity.
Vertigo. Medications, lack of sleep, and age also affect walking safely.

We need those handrails on steps.  We love hanging onto those shopping buggies
in stores.  Thank goodness for all those walls and furniture to hold onto.

With my own case of MS, I had walking problems from the onset.  I was very young and the walls and buggies sufficed for a few years.  Then things started getting worse. I bought a collapsible cane and carried it in my briefcase everyday, but never used
it.  Until one day when I was crossing a cobblestone street and I wiped out.

That’s the day I took out the cane—I was thirty-years old and started using it for my poor balance. I was too startled and scared to be embarrassed.  After that day, I never hesitated to use that or any other assistive device.  It didn’t take much to fall down:  a crack in a sidewalk, a toe getting caught in a throw rug, or a shoe heel that was too

I thought of my cane as a pair of glasses that one uses to see better.  So I bought four canes in various colors and styles to match my outfits. Later, the walker-on-wheels with the built-in seat to rest on was a blessing when the weakness and fatigue would cause my legs to crumple after walking a short distance.  The added benefit of the basket to carry my things for me was so convenient.

We MSers need to think about tripping and falling constantly—something “normal” people take for granted.

Falling down is dangerous to us for several reasons.  Obviously, serious injuries can result.  Serious injuries not only impair daily living, they cause enormous stress and often cause a relapse.  Relapses lead to intensifying existing MS and creating new ones from residual damage. Injuries take longer for people with MS to heal because of the autoimmune response of our nervous system.

Steroids (such as Solu-medrol) are frequently prescribed to reduce inflammation and shorten the life of a relapse.  Most people on steroids suffer side effects and over time these cause loss of bone density.

Therefore, the older you are, the more dangerous it is to fall down. Not only are older people prone to fractures because of bone loss from things like menopause and osteoporosis, but those who lived a long life with MS probably used steroids frequently throughout the years to shorten their relapses.  Being fifty-seven years old, I was lucky I didn’t break a bone when I fell.

There is a whole arsenal of tools available to help prevent falling down–physical therapy, walking devices, strengthening/balance exercises, arranging daily habits to enable frequent resting…too many to talk about in this article. I’ve explored and use(d) so many of them and am always looking for new things out there to try.

Where to start?  Go to a physical therapist who has worked with MS patients and talk to other MSers. It is essential to learn how to do and use things correctly.

These things take time, dedication and will power to adjust to lifestyle changes.  They create more interference in our daily life and add more to do and worry about.  But the chance of suffering a serious injury doesn’t fit in with working full-time, being a spouse/parent, running a household or enjoying life either (sigh).

We with MS have to take every precaution we can from falling down.  Our lives (and our butts!) depend on it.