Dr Gretchen Hawley is a multiple sclerosis exercise specialist who will be hosting information sessions for MS-UK Online – be sure to book your place
I’m often asked what the most important thing is when it comes to exercises with multiple sclerosis (MS). My answer is always ‘functional exercise’. Functional exercises are activity-based whereas regular exercises are weakness-based.
The difference is that exercises that are weakness-based will likely increase the strength of that muscle, but the renewed strength often does not result in improved function with daily activities and movements, such as walking.
Functional exercises break down a specific activity that is challenging and strengthens the body in a specific way that will make that activity easier. For example, if someone has hip weakness which is making it difficult to walk, a regular exercise may be a straight leg raise, or perhaps the clamshell or side-lying leg raise.
Breaking down movement
However, a functional exercise would require the breakdown of that movement. Continuing with this example, walking requires knee bending, toe lifting, knee lifting, balance, and weight shifting. Therefore, these five movements should be the exercises that are performed to achieve improved walking.
It’s best to choose a position for the client where the movements can be done successfully. Ideally, this is the same position as the activity (for example for walking, the position is standing), however it can be performed in other positions, like sitting. Replacing regular exercise with functional exercise can make a world of a difference for those with MS. It’s often the difference between remaining at your current ability level and improving your mobility and energy.
In our upcoming information sessions I’m hosting on behalf of MS-UK, we’ll be revealing all of the best tips and strategies to help you get the most out of your MS-specific exercises that promote neuroplasticity, discussing the difference between regular exercise and functional exercise, and our final session will be on spasticity.
Hope to see you there,
Dr Gretchen Hawley
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