Don't Underestimate the Physical Abilities of Patients with Multiple Sclerosis

Interventions needed to get MS patients more active.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients may actually be in better physical condition than some tests conclude, suggest findings published in the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign studied 64 patients with MS aged 18 to 64 years in order to appropriately assess the physical fitness of these patients via aerobic capacity and muscular strength.

The patients completed two symptom limited cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular strength tests, while the researchers assessed their disability, cognition, fatigue, walking speed, endurance, health related quality of life, and activities of daily living.

The researchers found the participants’ muscle strength increased between 60 and 173% greater, depending on which leg muscle group was tested in the tasks and whether their abilities were measured with a computerized dynamometer (measuring the amount of torque or muscle force exerted to move a level with the legs) or a handheld device.

Similarly, the participants’ peak aerobic capacity was 32% greater when tested by the researchers with a recumbent stepper versus an arm ergometer (a type of upper body exercise machine that is similar to riding a bike with one’s hands).

The researchers added that handheld dynamometers has been questioned in the past, especially because the results with it can vary greatly. The results may vary due to a variety of factors, including the strength of the task administrator.

“We know there are some serious health consequences in terms of morbidity and mortality, so inactivity is a pretty significant issue,” community health professor and study leader Lara Pilutti explained in a press release. “We need to develop some interventions for both people with MS and in the general population to get everyone to be more active. But that’s going to be a challenge for people who have more severe mobility disabilities.”

The researchers continued by commenting that MS patients with significant disability are often excluded from research studies for several reasons, such as facilities not having the required adaptive equipment or barriers to exercise participation like transportation problems.

However, they said, MS patients with disabling symptoms have the most to gain from this type of research: the appropriate exercise can assist the management of the symptoms of disease, like fatigue, muscle weakness, and balance and coordination problems.