What is MS gait?
Your gait can be defined simply as ‘the way you walk’. Problems with gait can be a common MS mobility issue. Having difficulty walking can make you feel self-conscious, and it can also lead to falls. We can provide you with guidance on how to stay on your feet.
Characteristics of the MS gait pattern
First, let’s take a look at some of the common characteristics of the MS gait pattern that you might be experiencing:
- You may walk more slowly, with shorter steps
- You may lack confidence when you walk – leading to hesitation and stumbling
- You might feel unsteady when turning or walking
- You might find placing your foot on the ground difficult
- You might feel a heaviness in your legs as you step forward
- You may find you need something to lean on a friend’s arm, furniture, or a walking aid
- You may stumble or trip
- Your legs may give way when you put weight on them
In order to find ways of helping to treat this collection of MS symptoms, it also helps to think about the various factors that can change the way you walk, such as:
- Feeling muscle tightness or spasticity
- Issues with your balance – a swaying gait is known as ataxia
- Numbness in your feet – this is called sensory ataxia
- MS fatigue
- Sight problems, including double vision
- Weak leg muscles
- Leg, foot, hip, joint, knee and muscle pain
Treatment for gait difficulties
Action you can take:
✔ Making changes to your diet
Maintaining a healthy weight is vital for people with MS for many reasons, not least because carrying less weight will improve your balance and take additional strain off your legs and joints. Following a healthy diet can also help to improve other MS symptoms at the same time.
✔ Staying active
When walking is difficult, your instinct will be to move less. But staying active in your everyday life is one of the most important treatments for people with MS as routine exercise is crucial for brain health. It will encourage you to know that there is evidence to support this.
If you get into a gentle exercise routine, with attainable and realistic goals, it can help to elevate your spirit as well as help your physical symptoms. To help motivate yourself, work out with a friend, encourage others in a support group, or do something active that you love, like gardening or dancing. It can be very helpful to work with a qualified trainer or neuro physiotherapist, to devise a program tailored to your individual needs.
Tai chi, yoga and aquatic therapy are also gentle on your joints and a great way to relax and improve your strength – both physically and mentally.
✔ Physical and occupational therapy and gait training
Assistive devices such as walking cane, a recently publicized walking bike or a scooter can be used alongside physical therapy to increase your muscle strength. This can help you with any loss of balance, spasticity, weakness or numbness in your feet.
Exercises to help you walk more easily may include using head and eye movements and moving or changing your weight-bearing. These exercises might also include stretching to loosen tight, spastic muscles, which will also improve your gait.
✔ Treating your fatigue
You will often find that problems with your gait increase when your fatigue increases. The fatigue can lead to changes in your normal walking stride and this can lead to pain, which will make your gait worse. Concentrating on treatment for your MS fatigue will therefore also improve problems with MS gait.
Regular massage will help to increase flexibility and reduce muscle stiffness to aid your mobility. Deep tissue massage may provide benefits that last for longer, but a gentle massage will also help you to relax. Massage will also help to reduce any symptoms of stress or anxiety you may feel. Additionally, a warm bath at the end of a long day will also help you to relax your mind and body.
✔ Do that thing you have always wanted to do
When you have difficulties walking due to MS, you may feel like hiding away, but instead let it give you permission to prioritize something you have always wanted to do, whether that is studying something new, committing to a new physical challenge or writing a book. It will help you mentally and physically to accomplish a goal or dream.
What are the next steps?
If it seems like there is too much information and you don’t know where to start, read through our next steps – we can help you.