How Rehab Therapy Can Treat MS

Medicine plays a key role in treating your multiple sclerosis (MS), but it takes more than pills to manage the effects of the disease on your daily life. If you want to help your mind and body work better, whether it's for work or play, rehab therapy may be the answer.

Different forms of rehab therapy, also called restorative rehabilitation, target the way MS changes your life. It helps you stay independent and handle many of the physical, mental, and emotional challenges you face.

Physical Therapy (PT)

MS affects everyone differently, but you'll probably find that it limits movement in at least one part of your body. You may find you have pain in a certain area, trouble walking, dizziness, fatigue, or bladder issues. For all these problems, physical therapy can help by building up your strength.

Your physical therapist might work with you on a specific exercise program. Some of the things she might suggest you try are:

  • Use an inflatable exercise ball or tilt board to build balance
  • Tai chi to help you get stronger and improve coordination and balance
  • Pool exercises to help prevent falls
  • With a low mat, practice safe ways to get in and out of bed

She can also train you to use an assistive device, like a cane or wheelchair, if you need one.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy tries to change and simplify the way you do your everyday tasks at home. The goal is to let you work safely without having to rely on help from other folks.

Occupational therapists can improve your ability to move your hands and fingers and help with your hand-eye coordination. For example, you might try things like:

  • Practice squeezing to build strength in your hand
  • Place pegs in peg boards to improve coordination
  • Learn how to reach things on your shelf with a device instead of your arm

An occupational therapist can also look at your workplace and suggest changes that can help you do your job safely and comfortably.


Cognitive Rehabilitation

MS may alter the way you think, concentrate, or remember. If those are problems for you, cognitive rehab fights back by helping you work that big muscle called your brain.

Cognitive rehabilitation can make a big difference in your life. A neuropsychologist, someone who specializes in brain changes caused by disease or trauma, can show you activities to sharpen your skills.

She'll also give you strategies for organization and time management. You'll learn little tricks like leaving yourself reminder notes, making checklists, or using word association to trigger a memory.


MS can sometimes affect your mood in unpredictable ways. You may get worried about your future or feel isolated from your family and friends.

Just as other forms of rehab therapy focus on ways to help you handle your everyday tasks, your feelings may benefit from some training as well. Let a counselor or psychologist support you through the emotional issues that can come along with MS.

Speech Therapy

If MS causes problems with your voice or the way you speak, speech therapy works on your communication skills. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) tests your mouth, voice, and breath and shows you exercises that can strengthen weak areas.

Speech therapy is also useful if you're having trouble swallowing, called dysphagia. An SLP tests everything from your lips and throat to the larynx -- an organ in your neck that holds your vocal cords. She'll point out ways to change your diet or hold your head while swallowing.

Vocational Rehabilitation

When you look at your job and workplace, you may see the challenges MS presents. But a therapist looks at it through different eyes and sees the changes you can make to keep working.

If you want to move into a new career or brush up on your interviewing skills, a vocational rehab therapist can give you advice.

A vocational rehab specialist can also talk to you about your legal rights on the job. She can explain how the Americans with Disabilities Act may allow you to make tweaks to your workplace that take into account your MS symptoms.


Recreational Therapy

This form of rehab is work disguised as fun. Taking part in activities that you enjoy has physical and social benefits.

A recreational therapist will help you make a plan to take advantage of your own interests. You'll find out how your MS symptoms don't have to stand in the way of doing things like yoga, swimming, golf, and horseback riding.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on March 22, 2018



Mayo Clinic: "Multiple Sclerosis."

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Rehabilitation," "Managing Cognitive Problems in MS."

Multiple Sclerosis Association of America: "The Benefits of Rehabilitation."

Multiple Sclerosis International Federation: "Rehabilitation."

Cleveland Clinic: "Vocational Rehabilitation Services," "Occupational Therapy & Multiple Sclerosis."

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: "Physical Therapy in MS."

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