In this episode, we are sharing highlights from our webinar, ‘Movement and Breathing Better whilst Living Well with Overcoming MS’ with Gillian Robinson. Gillian is a physiotherapist at the MS Therapy Centre in Lothian, Scotland. She discusses how MS affects breathing, how to breathe better and the importance of physical activity for people with MS.

This webinar was recorded as part of our Finding Hope with Overcoming MS webinar series. Watch the original webinar here. Keep reading for the key episode takeaways and Gillian’s bio.

Read the episode transcript

Topics and Timestamps

00:57 Why and how we should breathe.

04:22 How MS can affect respiration.  

09:13 Consequences of ineffective breathing.

11:00 Monitoring and slowing your breathing helps with fatigue and stress management.

14:05 Posture and nasal breathing are important.

20:19 Deep breathing exercises can be part of your meditation practice to strengthen respiratory muscles.

27:23 Benefits of exercise for people with MS.

33:00 Include both aerobic and anaerobic activities in your routine.

36:38 Vestibular retraining, physiotherapy, Tai Chi and Thera Bands can be helpful for people with MS.

38:16 Breathing exercises can strengthen your pelvic floor and abdominals.

40:06 Virtual reality and visualisation can both be used to improve wellbeing.

41:53 Noticing your breathing is the first step to improving it.

Selected Key Takeaways

Breathing can be affected by MS, so it’s important to keep active to strengthen muscles in the respiratory system.
04:24 “It's only in recent years that it's been demonstrated that the respiratory system can be affected quite early on in MS. I think most of us are aware that it can be affected in the more advanced stages of MS. [These early effects are] logical really, as we know that muscle strength can be affected by MS in the disease process itself, as wherever your lesions are, they can cause muscle weakness in the rest of our body. So, it makes sense that it will cause muscle weakness in our respiratory system. Not only is this primary weakness a result of the MS itself, but if you're not using [your] muscles and reducing levels of activity, you can develop secondary weakness or deconditioning.”

Nasal breathing is really important for optimal health.
17:17 “Nasal Breathing is really important. We know that chronic mouth breathing can cause problems with your respiratory system and your lung function and certainly impair the effectiveness of your breathing. You can get dental problems by breathing through your mouth, and you're losing 40% more moisture than you do by breathing through your nose.”

Visualisation whilst breathing can help strengthen muscles.
41:00 “An interesting bit of research out there shows that through visualisation activities alone, you can improve muscle strength. So, if you struggle with activity and getting your body moving, visualise activities that you might enjoy. The more detail that you can add to your mental imagery, the better and the more likelihood of success. Just try to bring your awareness of your breath. We've talked about how important breathing technique and exercising your respiratory muscles is.If your breathing is optimised, it most definitely has a knock-on effect on your wider wellbeing.”

Noticing your breathing is the first step to improving it.
42:39 "Notice your breathing responses during activity, so notice what your breathing patterns do. [Does your breath] start to get more shallow as you get more effortful? Do you start to breathe through your mouth? Be more mindful of how your breathing responds to activity."

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Gillian’s bio:

Gillian’s qualifications and career background

After graduating from Dundee University with a BSc Hons in Anatomical Sciences, Gillian went on to study physiotherapy. She graduated in 2002 and worked in Croydon University Hospital for 10 years where she cemented her passion for neurology. During her time in Croydon, she completed an MSc in Acupuncture from Coventry University, a useful tool for the treatment box.

The MS Therapy Centre

In 2012, Gillian moved to Edinburgh where she began working at the MS Therapy Centre Lothian as Lead Physiotherapist. Here she has developed a reputable service for those who attend the centre and has established strong links with the medical and healthcare professionals who are involved in their clients’ care. The ethos promoted by the MS Therapy Centre is one of supported self-management, encouraging and enabling the clients to understand and take control of their symptoms. Within her role Gillian is dedicated to helping people explore their capabilities and facilitate them to achieve a fitter, healthier, happier self.

The Health Design Collective – designing products to support people with MS.

Gillian is also a director of the social enterprise, Health Design Collective. Set up in 2019, they have a vision to create innovative products for people with long-term health conditions through co-design with the end users. Their first product currently under development is footwear for people with foot drop.