By Fiona McMahon, DPT
The week of March 7 through March 13 is recognized as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Week. In an effort to help raise awareness for this condition we wanted to dedicate one of our blog posts to the subject of MS, how it affects people with the disease and how we at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy work with patients with MS.
MS is reported to affect 2.3 million people worldwide. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the ability of the nerves to send messages to the body. The typical age of onset for MS is between 20-40, however there are known cases where MS can arise later or in childhood. The immune system of people with MS begins to attack the fatty covering or insulation of the nerve cells, over time the covering of nerve cells scars down, which slows or impedes the messages sent to the body from the brain. The reason why the immune system turns on its own body is unknown and is one of the major areas of research into MS.
The symptoms of MS are variable and some are more common than others. Not everyone presents with the same systems, which is why it can take some time for someone with MS to be properly diagnosed. Common symptoms of MS include, fatigue, tingling in the arms and legs, vision issues, difficulty walking, sexual issues, and issues with bladder and bowel function. There are other symptoms associated with MS and these symptoms can change over time. What is difficult and frustrating for patients with MS as well as their health care providers, is that these symptoms are nonspecific and don’t necessarily rule out or rule in anyone specific disease, whether it be MS or something else. There is no one lab test to diagnose MS, but MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) as well as clinical findings may lead to a diagnosis of MS.
As of now, there is no cure for MS. But fortunately there are a lot of resources that can help people with MS lessen the disability caused by MS. Medicine has come a long way to alter the course of MS with disease modifying agents. Drugs now exist which can slow the progression of the disease, manage relapse, and help correct specific symptoms like depression, fatigue, and pain.
Physical therapy can help a multitude of symptoms associated with MS. Most general physical therapists are qualified to help patients with MS walk more efficiently, manage fatigue, and improve their daily function. Pelvic floor physical therapists can also help to manage specific issues such as urinary issues, bowel issues and bladder issues, as well as the symptoms mentioned above. We at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy are skilled at treating both the orthopedic and pelvic health aspects of MS. We encourage prospective patients to call our office to speak to a physical therapist if they have any questions.
Although MS is manageable, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. A single test to diagnose MS is still not available, nor is there a cure for this disease. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about MS, donate to research, participate in fundraising, or find support in your area.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org [Accessed March 5, 2016]