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, balance problems, trouble walking, dizziness, fatigue, or bladder issues. For all these problems, physical therapy can help by building up your strength.
Ask your doctor for a referral, and check with other people who have MS for suggestions on where to go in your area. You may have one to three sessions to learn exercises to do at home, and then follow-ups as needed. Some therapists may be able to come to your home to work with you.
Your physical therapist will help you set up a fitness program that's good for your strength and goals. Regular exercise helps with all types of MS, but it can be hard when you're tired or you get overheated easily. You'll learn how to work around these issues to get the most from your workouts.
You may also learn:
- Stretches to prevent or ease muscle spasms
- Exercises to keep muscles strong and improve coordination and balance
- Range-of-motion exercises, like straightening and bending your arms and legs
- Tips to prevent falls
- How to use canes, crutches, scooters, wheelchairs, or other aids, if necessary
If your MS symptoms make it hard to do your job, your therapist can take you through some tests and document the kind of trouble you're having. This is called a functional capacity evaluation. It measures whether you can work an 8-hour day and may help if you need to apply for Social Security disability benefits.
Occupational Therapy (OT)
Occupational therapy tries to change and simplify the way you do everyday tasks at home. The goal is to let you work safely without having to rely on help from other folks, and make your daily life easier and more enjoyable.
In general, an occupational therapist can help you find easier ways to:
- Cook and do chores
- Have fun and enjoy your hobbies
- Bathe and use the toilet
- Get dressed and groom yourself
An occupational therapist also can give you information on how to adjust your surroundings to suit your needs. They might suggest ways to alter your home, your car, or your computer to make them easier to use. They can also look at your workplace and suggest changes to help you do your job safely and comfortably.
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.
They'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.
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. They'll point out ways to change your diet or hold your head while swallowing.
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. They can explain how the Americans with Disabilities Act may allow you to make tweaks to your workplace that take into account your MS symptoms.
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.