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Improving Balance and Walking: Conference Focuses on Rehabilitation Strategies for People with MS

March 16, 2021

Nearly 100 clinicians, researchers, engineers, and others from around the world gathered virtually for the 10th International Symposium on Gait and Balance in MS. Their goal was to share current knowledge about how to address walking problems experienced by people with MS. These studies add evidence to help confirm the benefits of innovative rehabilitation approaches so that they may be more broadly disseminated to the MS community.
 
Anyone can read the presentation summaries (abstracts) from the meeting, which are published online in the International Journal of MS Care (2021;23 (1): 45–46)This annual conference was convened by Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Physical Therapy Program.
 
Here are a few highlights of this meeting:
 
Whole body vibration: Devices that apply vibrations to the whole body have been shown to improve nerve and muscle function. Dr. Su-Chun Huang and a team (Hospital San Raffaele, Milan, Italy) tested this strategy in eight men with MS and significant walking impairments, and compared it with a sham intervention. They found that after one 15-minute session, upper and lower limb performance improved significantly more with vibration. Importantly, this strategy might be a non-fatiguing way to improve muscle function. Read more about similar bodywork therapies.
 
Putting on weights: Dr. Diane Allen and colleagues (University of California, San Francisco) previously found that balanced-based torso weighting – in which light weights are strategically placed in a vest to enhance stability – improved walking speed in people with MS, with funding from the National MS Society. Now, they tested how 5 people with MS would tolerate daily torso weighting. The results suggest that 2-4 hours daily for 2-4 weeks improved performance in standing stability and gait, and reduced the tendency to become fatigued. Further studies are necessary in larger numbers of people to determine whether this is a safe and effective rehabilitation strategy.
 
Get active: Colorado State University researchers Victoria Bandera and Dr. Brett Fling asked 27 people with MS to report on their exercise habits, to see if there was any link to balance and mobility. People who reported exerting themselves more, exercising habitually, and whose exercise involved resistance training (to improve muscle strength) or plyometric training (quicker, powerful movements like hopping or lunges) had better balance and mobility. This study lends evidence to the benefits of staying active with MS, particularly at high relative intensities. Exercise guidelines/videos are available for ALL people with MS.
 
Robotic assistance: Dr. Savanur Rajendra and colleagues (Indiana University) tested an electromechanically-assisted gait training system that was developed for restoring walking and independence in people recovering from stroke. In this study, 15 people with progressive MS and difficulty with walking were randomly assigned to conventional physical therapy alone or in combination with robot-assisted gait training. Both groups showed improvements; physical fatigue and disability were reduced significantly better in the robot-assisted group. Further study will determine if this novel intervention can improve the lives of people with progressive MS. This study was partly funded by the National MS Society.
 
Download the scientific abstracts (.pdf)
Read more about addressing walking difficulties in MS

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.

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