Difficulties with walking are common MS symptoms. People often report their legs feel weak. Muscle stiffness (spasticity), poor balance, and sensory disturbances such as numbness can contribute to walking problems. Fatigue can increase problems with balance, lower extremity weakness, stiffness, and numbness, which make it harder to walk safely and efficiently.
Toe drag or foot drop is a common problem in MS and occurs when one can’t lift a foot quite high enough thus catching their toe on the ground and losing their balance which can result in a fall. People sometimes compensate for foot drop by swinging the hip to the side, bending the knee, or tilting the body in order to keep the foot from dragging on the ground. These compensations cause an abnormal walking pattern which can lead to lower extremity or low back pain.
Physical therapists help people determine why they are having trouble walking. A physical therapist will analyze individual gait patterns (how a person walks) and test muscle strength, balance, and sensation to determine specific problems. Based on this evaluation, the physical therapist will recommend a program to address these problems. Recommendations usually fall into five general areas:
A comprehensive physical therapy program can increase muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and coordination. Programs are tailored to the ability and fitness level of the individual and can be as varied as rigorous fitness programs, hydrotherapy, and wheel chair aerobics.
Assistive aids, such as a cane or brace, may be prescribed to improve balance and conserve energy while walking.
Energy conservation techniques can help reduce fatigue and can improve endurance.
Practical solutions, such as a different shoe type, home layout, or walking surface may also be suggested to help improve gait.
Medications are sometimes recommended to help decrease spasticity (muscle stiffness). (See Stiffness, Spasticity and Spasms).