Muscle weakness, core stability, and the benefits of exercise for MS patients

 

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you may find that just thinking about exercise can make you feel tired. You may also experience muscle weakness or poor core stability, which can impair your balance, or pelvic floor weakness, which may cause bladder leakage. You may find you’ve become less active as a result of all of this, despite your best intentions: but in reality, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the benefits brought on by a good exercise routine.

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you may find that just thinking about exercise can make you feel tired. You may also experience muscle weakness or poor core stability, which can impair your balance, or pelvic floor weakness, which may cause bladder leakage. You may find you’ve become less active as a result of all of this, despite your best intentions: but in reality, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the benefits brought on by a good exercise routine.

Exercise is a very simple, preventative answer to these potential health risks. With regular physical activity, improving the quality of your life is a very real possibility. From reducing episodes of urinary incontinence, to helping you feel like participating in more social activities, exercise can not only improve the overall physical quality of your life, but also your psychological well being. So, with that in mind, here’s a breakdown of how you can utilise exercise in order to live a better, more comfortable life with MS.

 

How exercise benefits people with MS

 

One study found that if you make exercising a priority, it can positively affect your quality of life1. It showed that people with MS who engage in regular physical fitness activities enjoy less fatigue, and increased participation in social activities — potentially leading to an improvement in emotional wellbeing through social interaction. Another study showed that physical therapy interventions reduced incontinence episodes (involuntary urination), and improved general quality of life among people with MS2. So then, how can you start to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle?

 

Pelvic floor training to manage incontinence

 

Building the strength of your abdominal muscles through core exercises provides support to your bladder, and other internal organs, through the improvement of posture and gait — both of which can positively impact the effectiveness of pelvic muscles. You can also perform specialised exercises called pelvic floor training to reduce incontinence, which directly strengthens the muscles that support your bladder deep in your pelvis3.

To learn how to do pelvic floor training correctly, you should consult a doctor, MS nurse, or physiotherapist with experience in this therapy. Once you’ve learned how to do the exercises, you can easily perform them multiple times a day in the privacy of your own home.

 

Coping with incontinence during exercise

 

You may be asking yourself, “but how can I exercise without experiencing bladder leakage?” The answer to this may actually be easier than you think. Now, the muscle stress that occurs during exercise certainly can cause your bladder to leak, but you should not let this deter you from pursuing fitness activities. You can employ several strategies to help you cope with incontinence during exercise.

Wearing a compression garment, such as bike shorts, will firstly provide extra support to your bladder during exercise. And, as an added bonus, you can wear a pad if you like; in fact, you should pack extra pads for your exercise session — for one, peace of mind can certainly play a part in bladder control.

For water exercise, you can wear waterproof incontinence briefs for confidence. Also, bring an extra catheter or two with you. Self-catheterise just before exercising to empty your bladder as much as possible, and then self-catheterise again during an exercise break if you need to. Lastly, practicing pelvic floor training is known to reduce episodes of incontinence in general — including during exercise — so it’s an exercise that really is worth looking into.

 

Improving core stability

 

If your doctor has given you the green light to exercise regularly, you can either start on your own or obtain help from a physiotherapist. For a good first step, though, start by focusing on strengthening your core, as this can improve balance and help to reduce urinary incontinence. You can do this, along with pelvic floor training, by trying several easy activities:

 

Walking

 

Walking outdoors makes an excellent first step toward physical fitness. What could be easier or more pleasant than taking a stroll in the fresh air? As a workout, walking can help you strengthen your legs and your core, and walking outdoors on less than level surfaces forces you to engage your core muscles for balance. However, do use an assistive device such as a cane if you need it to avoid falling.

 

Water aerobics

 

If you find walking too difficult, due to muscle weakness or balance problems, don’t despair — water aerobics are a brilliant alternative. Because of water’s buoyancy, you may find it easier to exercise in the water than on dry land. But don’t think water workouts confer fewer benefits. Working out in the water can, in fact, allow you to perform movements you might not be able to accomplish on land. To get started, find a water aerobics class for camaraderie and professional tutelage (your nearest leisure centre is a good place to begin). If you prefer to go it alone, though, try standing waist-deep in a pool and perform exercises such as side leg lifts, knee raises, and other calisthenics. These exercises are great for improving your core, and your doctor will be able to go through these in detail with you.

 

Yoga

 

For an exercise routine that nourishes your spirit as well as your body, consider trying yoga. As a lifestyle practice, yoga offers benefits beyond improving core muscle strength. It can help you learn how to breathe better, and develop a strong mind body connection — improving your emotional wellbeing as a result. Beginners may want to investigate yoga classes to receive personalised help mastering poses, but if you feel up to learning on your own, you can find yoga videos easily enough on the web and through apps.

 

Increased heat sensitivity

 

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, if MS has a direct impact on your heat sensitivity, you should take care to avoid overheating during exercise4. Start slowly, and very gradually build up the intensity and duration of activity. Take frequent rest breaks to cool down, catch your breath, and drink plenty of water, including iced beverages to keep hydrated. Consider, too, wearing a special ‘cooling garment’ to maintain a healthy body temperature during exercise.

Engaging in regular physical fitness activities holds a host of benefits for anyone living with multiple sclerosis. Exercising can reduce your incontinence episodes, improve your balance, walking ability, reduce your fatigue levels, emotional wellbeing, and more. All you need to do is to make fitness a priority in your life, and remember: this doesn’t meaning having to slug it out in the gym for hours at a time. Do it at your own pace, at a level you are comfortable with, and watch the quality of your life kick up a notch.

 

If you want to discover more information on how exercise can benefit MS, then check out our Learn section or get in touch for a chat with one of our Bard nurses. 

 

 
1 Mostert, S, and J Kesselring. "Effects of a short term exercise training program on aerobic fitness, fatigue, health perception and activity level of subjects with multiple sclerosis." Multiple sclerosis 8.2 (2002): 161168.

2 Block, Valerie et al. "Do Physical Therapy Interventions Affect Urinary Incontinence and Quality of Life in People with Multiple Sclerosis? An EvidenceBased Review." International journal of MS care 17.4 (2015): 172180.

3 "How to Do Pelvic Floor Exercises Overactive Bladder ..." (2011). Accessed: 11th May 2016

< http://www.healthcommunities.com/overactivebladder/
howtodopelvicfloorexercises.
shtml >