Multiple sclerosis (MS) treatments can now delay or even prevent disability in many people. But if your disease does get worse -- with pain, fatigue, muscle weakness, and vision problems -- it could become harder for you to get around on your own.
So it may be time to add new ways to stay mobile. A few strategies can help you get around more easily and safely.
See a Physical Therapist
A physical therapist (PT) will teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles of your legs and improve your balance. PTs can also show you:
- How to walk safely to prevent falls
- Tips to avoid fatigue
- Ways to conserve energy and improve your endurance
Get a Mobility Aid
A physical therapist can also see if you would benefit from one of these mobility aids, and fit you for it.
A brace supports your ankle and foot to keep them in the right position when you walk. It prevents your foot from catching on the floor if you have foot drop, and gives you more control over your leg movements. A physical therapist or an orthotic specialist can custom-fit your brace to you.
Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a small device that attaches to your lower leg. It sends out a mild electrical pulse to help your leg muscles contract. FES can help you lift your foot without dragging.
Canes are useful for people with balance issues. A cane with one leg is light and portable. One with four legs will help keep you more stable. Some models fold for easy storage.
Walkers offer a wider base of support than canes. They can help compensate for weak muscles. Some walkers have a seat for when you get tired. Wheeled walkers are easy to push. A walker without wheels requires enough strength to pick it up and put it back down with each step.
Wheelchairs and scooters are good when you need to go longer distances. Power wheelchairs and scooters roll and maneuver at the push of a button. You'll need a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, or someone who can fold and lift your wheelchair into the trunk.
Choose the Right Shoes
If MS has made you feel unsteady on your feet, wearing the wrong shoes can make you more likely to fall. Choose a pair of sturdy but lightweight walking shoes with good arch support and a cushioned insole. A shoe with a small heel of under 2 inches is better for balance than flats.
Rubber soles will give you good traction, but they can catch on the ground if your foot drags. Look for a pair with a light tread that won't get stuck with each step. Your rheumatologist or a podiatrist can recommend other shoe features that suit your needs and abilities.
Get fitted at the shoe store or by a podiatrist to make sure you get the right size. Too-big shoes will slip, while tight ones could cut off your circulation. Press down on the top of the shoe to make sure you have 1/2 to 1 inch of space in front of your big toe.
Adapt Your Car
Driving can be tricky with MS. Muscle stiffness makes it harder to press the brake or turn your head to see the side mirrors. Problems with coordination and thinking can slow your reaction time behind the wheel. These kinds of physical and mental changes can increase the risk of car accidents.
Have a certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS) evaluate your skills behind the wheel and tell you whether it's safe for you to drive. You can find one in your area through the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED).
The CDRS can also recommend adaptive devices like these for your car:
- Mechanical hand controls or a digital driving ring to work the gas and brake
- A spinner knob to turn the steering wheel
- Adaptive steering and/or breaking
- Large side and rear-view mirrors
- Seats that turn to help you get in more easily
If driving has become too hard for you, take public transportation. Or use a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. Both companies offer wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
Check Your Needs
Your doctor and physical therapist can evaluate you to figure out which of these tools and devices you need. They can also help you manage costs. Wheelchairs and scooters can be hundreds of dollars, but Medicare, Medicaid, and some private insurance companies should help cover the cost for any mobility device your doctor recommends.