Treatments for balance and walking problems
There are a number of things you can do to try to improve your balance. Some of these you can do with support, while others you can try on your own. An MS nurse, physiotherapist or occupational therapist can help find the probable causes and the most appropriate way to manage the issues.
Once the problem has been investigated, there are a number of options, including:
- exercise and physiotherapy
- equipment and adaptations
- functional electrical stimulation (FES)
A well-designed physiotherapy programme can help improve balance. There are different types of exercise that may be useful, including exercises specifically designed to improve balance.
The programme could also include exercises that focus on posture, and the strength and suppleness of your muscles, which could in turn benefit your balance.
There's evidence to suggest that a range of exercise therapies, including yoga, Pilates, t'ai chi, the Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique, along wtih aerobics and outdoor walking, can also help.
Getting out and about
There are things you can do if balance issues have affected your ability to get out and about safely.
You may ﬁnd you need to pay more attention than usual to balancing when you walk and move around. You may ﬁnd it easier if you focus on walking, without doing anything else at the same time (such as talking).
Using a stick or other walking aid at times can also help. Some people ﬁnd it particularly helpful in open spaces, or in unfamiliar places. Your occupational therapist and the Disabled Living Foundation can give you further details about equipment available.
At home - simple adjustments, or perhaps some adaptations, may help if you ﬁnd it difﬁcult to move around your house safely. An occupational therapist can also help you ﬁnd suitable adjustments or adaptations.
If you have problems with dropped foot (meaning that you can’t lift your foot up properly when you’re walking) you may benefit from a splint or Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES). These devices reduce the impact of the dropped foot, and make walking easier and make it less likely that you will trip or fall.
Think you might be eligible for FES but having trouble accessing it? Download our FES campaigns guide.
Fampridine, also known as Fampyra (and in America as Ampyra), is a drug that can help with walking. It helps about one in three people who take it. If this drug works for you it can speed up your walking by about 25%. This improvement can get less the longer you take the drug but walking is still better than if you'd never taken it. You take this drug as a tablet twice a day.
Can I have this drug?
Fampridine has been available in Europe since 2011. In the UK it's rarely available free on the NHS. NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommends which drugs are available on the NHS in England. In 2014 they decided this drug isn't cost effective. In other words, they didn't feel it gives people enough improvement in their symptoms for how much it would cost the Health Service. This was also the decision made for Wales in 2014 and for Scotland in 2016 by similar bodies who make recommendations for those countries.
If your GP, MS nurse or neurologist think you need this drug they can ask the NHS locally to pay for it but this isn't usually successful. The drug is available privately for people who can afford to pay for it (from £2,500 a year, at least).
The MS Society believes if you have MS you should get access to the right treatments at the right time, no matter where you live or what your financial situation is. We will carry on campaigning to make fampridine available on the NHS across the UK.
Download our guide on how to campaign for access to MS medicines
Take action now for fair access to MS treatments