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

May 7, 2020

Nearly 100 clinicians, researchers, engineers and others from around the world gathered in Denver, Colorado for the 9th 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 community.
Anyone can read the presentation summaries (abstracts) from the meeting, which are published online in the International Journal of MS Care (2020;22(2):100-101). This annual conference is convened by the Oregon Health & Science University MS Center and the MS Center of Excellence West at the VA Portland Health Care System.
Here are a few highlights of this meeting:
  • Electrical stimulation: An international team from the University of Colorado, Italy, and Saudi Arabia tested whether targeting sensory nerve fibers with electrical stimulation would improve balance and mobility. Led by graduate student and physical therapist Mohammed Alenazy they administered nine treatment sessions – 10 minutes to each hand and leg – to 15 people with MS. The team reported that the speed of walking, distance, and ability to stand improved significantly in this group after treatment. Larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.
  • Yoga and relaxation: LaVerne Garner, PT, DPT, and colleagues at Winston Salem State University tested whether a comprehensive yoga program – involving sessions in MS-related education, yoga, meditation, and relaxation exercises – would impact balance and walking in 15 people with MS. They found that balance, walking, the ability to complete a cognitive task while walking, and quality of life all improved significantly. A larger study using a control group is needed to confirm these findings.
  • Footwear: Can a simple factor like the height of your shoe sole affect balance? Yes, actually. Patrick Monaghan and colleagues at Colorado State University tested how well 17 women with MS were able to control their posture when standing in shoes with medium or high cushion soles. Participants stood as still as possible for 30 seconds on four types of surfaces. They reported that balance improved significantly when participants were wearing the high cushion shoe. Although it seems simple, if people feel more comfortable standing, this can improve daily function and quality of life.
  • Aquatics: Water helps people with MS move in ways they may not be able to on land while keeping their body temperature cool. A team of physical therapists at Southwest Baptist University in Missouri reviewed the medical literature to understand whether aquatic therapy has been shown to improve walking and balance. They found three studies addressing the question, and the results show that aquatic therapy improved balance, walking speed and walking distance. The team, led by Becky Schoeneberg, DPT, notes the need for further research, which might answer whether aquatic therapy can help people with MS to conquer a fear of falling.
Read More:
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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