From The MS Information Sourcebook, produced by the National MS Society.
The purpose of physical therapy (PT) is to restore or maintain a person's ability when a medical condition or injury causes impairment of movement and reduction in normal activity. The physical therapist is trained to evaluate and improve movement and function of the body, with particular emphasis on physical mobility, strength, balance, posture, fatigue, and pain. The ultimate goal is to achieve and maintain optimal functioning and prevent unnecessary complications such as de-conditioning, disuse weakness, and muscle tightness.
Because most people with MS initially experience a relapsing-remitting disease course, they are likely to have different levels of physical ability at different times. The impact that the MS is having on an individual's central nervous system at any given point in time determines how effective PT can be in enhancing specific functions, and, indeed, what types of physical therapy an individual can do. Even in the earliest stages of the disease, however, there is a role for physical therapy in helping people to manage their energy wisely and maintain optimal levels of physical functioning.
A Written Referral from a Physician is Often Required by Insurance Plans
A physical therapist with experience in treating people with MS can evaluate and recommend, on an individual basis, those interventions that will produce maximal results. Chapters of the National MS Society can provide referrals to experienced PTs in the community. A physical therapist can also recommend the appropriate ambulatory aid for those experiencing difficulty with walking, balance, and/or endurance. Activities to enhance control and muscle balance can improve function, safety, and efficiency of movement, and prevent or postpone weakness caused by lack of use. Slow stretching can be helpful in managing spasticity and pain, and in maintaining range of motion.
Consider the Effects of Heat and Fatigue During Exercise
Because heat can make MS symptoms worse in many people, the recommendation is generally to exercise in a cool environment (and consider using cooling garments), and alternate periods of exercise with equal periods of rest. With this type of exercise-rest-exercise pattern, physical therapy may be quite effective, with very good results.
For Healthcare Professionals
Kalb R. (ed.) Multiple Sclerosis: The Questions You Have; The Answers You Need (3rd ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.
—Ch. 5 Physical Therapy
Schapiro R. Managing the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (5th ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.