Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a neurological condition which affects the brain and the spinal cord, whereby the coating which protects the nerves (myelin) is damaged. As a result, the messages sent from the brain to the body are impeded. MS is essentially caused by the body’s immune system, which mistakes the myelin for a foreign body and attacks it.
The symptoms of MS can vary from person to person, depending on which area of the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord) has been affected.
Some of the symptoms can include fatigue, pain, muscle spasms, problems with movement and coordination, but also cognition and emotional changes, bladder and bowel issues and visual problems.
Although there is no cure for MS, symptom management can include a mix of drug treatment and physical therapy, alongside lifestyle support.
Exercising With MS – A Success Story
Steve joined the Royal Marines aged 17 and his career saw him serving in the Falklands, Northern Ireland and conflicts in the Middle East. After 15 years Steve left the Marines and had a successful career in finance. In 1995, aged 35, he was diagnosed with MS. The diagnosis came on top of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from his time spent in the military.
Steve’s symptoms and struggles with MS include dizziness, disorientation, memory problems, fatigue, joint pain, reduced movement and a loss of strength.
This is how Steve describes the reality of living with MS, and how exercise has helped improve his symptoms and the quality of his life.
“With MS daily life can be difficult because of the fatigue and dizziness I suffer on a daily basis. Simple tasks can be challenging due to my memory issues and I struggle to focus. Luckily, I have a great support worker Nicki who helps me with some of the tasks in my daily routine.
“On a good day, I feel I am able to cope quite well with life and what it throws at me, and I can engage with people. With a bit of support I can complete my daily tasks. But on a bad day, I can spend hours in bed feeling tired and dizzy, struggling with painful leg spasms.
“About nine years ago I had stopped exercising as my mobility had declined, along with my confidence. I thought that side of my life was over. When I met Gareth and we started training 7 months ago, I was really anxious at first, but I soon realised how patient he is. If I’m having a bad day, Gareth always finds alternative exercises to give me for that day. He has a way to push me within my limits, which is exactly what I needed.
“I have made many improvements thanks to training with Gareth, especially in my leg strength, and I can now walk without swaying. Previously I was relying on my wheel chair every day, but now I have the strength and confidence to walk wherever I go, and I haven’t been so reliant on my wheel chair for several months. This has enabled me to enjoy outdoor activities with The British Legion and Herefordshire Veteran Support Group.
“Since I started exercising, my energy levels have improved greatly, I have more stamina, and people have commented on how my balance has improved. Although I still stumble from time to time, it is not as much as I used to. My mental outlook is much better than before. I’m more positive and happier with life, and I don’t get as frustrated and upset about my condition anymore. I am more positive about the future.
“If you have MS, just give exercising a try. It doesn’t matter how old you are, I’m 58 now! Even if you rely on crutches or a wheelchair, there is always some form of exercise you can do. 12 months ago I couldn’t see a way forward with my life with MS, but with the help Gareth and my support worker Nicki give me, I feel I can achieve so much more.”
The Trainer’s Point Of View
Training someone with MS creates challenges that require thinking ‘outside the box’ when it comes to regular strength training. For example, when we were trying to strengthen Steve’s hamstrings, we had issues on the concentric contraction of the muscle, as the signals from the brain were being impeded. However, the hamstrings were firing on the eccentric phase of a hamstring curl, so I had spent a lot of time working on this phase of the movement by trying to straighten Steve’s leg manually and having him resist me while I was doing this. After a few months, Steve’s hamstrings began firing both eccentrically and concentrically, and this in turn helped improve his standing and walking.
Training Steve is a really rewarding part of my job. Seeing his progress and a better quality of life makes me proud of what he has achieved. The fact that he no longer has to use a wheelchair for many everyday tasks is just amazing. Well done Steve and keep up the good work!
Gareth Bennett is a Personal Trainer and Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for Team GB Paralympic Goalball Team.
Please contact Gareth for more information on home visits, one-to-one sessions and Small Group Personal Training.
Tel: 07429 132 276
Founder and editor of FitNet.
Previously gymnastics coach, massage therapist and personal trainer with 20 years of experience. Former gymnast and dancer.