A physiotherapist works with people with MS to assess physical difficulties and help improve movement and other functions of the body.
Exercise is one of the key ways in which they do this.
Physiotherapy can be useful to help you find exercises that meet your specific needs and abilities. A physiotherapist may suggest exercises that concentrate on a particular area of the body, or help you manage a specific effect of your MS.
Your GP or MS nurse can refer you to a physiotherapist.
A neuro-physiotherapist has had specialist training in problems and conditions to do with nerves (like MS). If you have the choice, one of these will understand more about the needs of people with MS and how to treat them. If you’ve used a regular physiotherapist and had disappointing results, maybe you’d have a better experience with a neuro-physiotherapist.
Physiotherapy is often recommended when there is a specific problem or ongoing symptoms that affect day-to-day activities, mobility and independence. It can help whatever your level of disability, but can be a particularly valuable when physical symptoms progress or you are recovering from a relapse.
If MS is affecting the sports or activities you are able to do, they might suggest new ways to stay fit, or ways to adapt your preferred exercises to suit your situation. A physiotherapist can also suggest particular exercises to treat and manage specific problems such as difficulties with mobility, balance, posture and fatigue.
Bladder problems, pain and muscle spasms and stiffness can also be targeted by physiotherapy.
Physiotherapy might involve the physiotherapist working ‘hands-on’ with you - for example they may hold and move your limbs for passive stretching and range-of-motion.
Access to physiotherapy
Access to a physiotherapist varies from place to place and you may not receive ongoing treatment on the NHS, but instead be given a limited number of sessions.
For some, it might be offered following a relapse, for others it may be suggested when there is a change in symptoms such as increased muscle stiffness or mobility problems.
A physiotherapist will sometimes teach you exercises that can be continued between appointments, possibly with the help of a family member or carer. Ideally, your progress with these exercises should be monitored from time to time, to assess what works for you and what doesn’t.
Physiotherapy is most commonly available as an ‘outpatient treatment’ – where you visit the hospital just for the treatment appointment and then leave again. Alternatively, if fatigue, spasticity or other symptoms associated with MS prevent you from travelling to the local hospital, a physiotherapist may be able to visit you in your own home.
You might also be able to access physiotherapy through:
- an MS or neurological ‘rehabilitation teams’ that include specialist neurophysiotherapists – ask your GP, neurologist or MS nurse if there’s one in your area and whether you can be referred to them
- a non-specialist rehabilitation clinics
- a local branch of the MS Society
- some MS Therapy Centres also have physiotherapy clinics
- in a private session. If you are considering paying for physiotherapy, registered therapists who specialise in neurology can be found through the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP). You can find physiotherapists near you, including neuro-physiotherapists, on the CSP website.