As a personal trainer I have had the opportunity to work with a number of people with neurological disorders, the most interesting of which on a results basis, is Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  This article will describe some of the techniques and exercises I use to improve the lives of people with MS. But before we discuss my approach, we must become familiar with two things.

What causes multiple sclerosis (MS)?

MS is an autoimmune condition. This is when something goes wrong with the immune system and it mistakenly attacks a healthy part of the body – in this case, the brain or spinal cord of the nervous system.

In MS, the immune system attacks the layer that surrounds and protects the nerves called the myelin sheath.

This damages and scars the sheath, and potentially the underlying nerves, meaning that messages travelling along the nerves become slowed or disrupted.

Neuroplasticity

Also known as brain plasticity, neuroelasticity, or neural plasticity, is the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual’s life, e.g. brain activity associated with a given function can be transferred to a different location, the proportion of grey matter can change, and synapses may strengthen or weaken over time. The aim of neuroplasticity is to optimise the neural networks during phylogenesis, ontogeny, and physiological learning, as well as after a brain injury. Research in the latter half of the 20th century showed that many aspects of the brain can be altered (or are “plastic”) even through adulthood. However, the developing brain exhibits a higher degree of plasticity than the adult brain.

Neuroplasticity can be observed at multiple scales, from microscopic changes in individual neurons to larger-scale changes such as cortical remapping in response to injury. Behaviour, environmental stimuli, thought and emotions may also cause neuroplastic change through activity-dependent plasticity, which has significant implications for healthy development, learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage. At the single cell level, synaptic plasticity refers to changes in the connections between neurons, whereas non-synaptic plasticity refers to changes in their intrinsic excitability.

Neuroplasticity has been key in training people with MS; effectively by repeating a movement pattern or “re-learning” balance we can improve, not cure, symptoms associated with MS.

Improving Balance

Balance can be improved by getting the affected individual to focus on the areas in the body where they can feel the weight shift or their centre of gravity move.  I normally start by having the individual stand in a wide stance and swing a weight, side to side in front of them. Nothing too heavy and not too high, I merely want them to feel the weight shift through the bottoms of their feet. Once, over time, they can reliably “feel” weight shift through their feet we start in other planes of motion and increased difficulty. Next we use similar techniques to “feel” that weight shift through their hips. Finally, as the individual starts to improve in these areas, we increase the difficulty levels progressively of the exercises to start to have “balance” become once again more of a subconscious instinct and not an area that the individual with MS has to constantly focus on in everyday life.

Foot Droop Correction

Most people with MS that I have encountered are constantly in fear of falling, this often is caused by a lack of response on their left side and by something called foot droop. This is the front of the foot not rising up when lifting the leg. I try to improve this by strengthening the muscles in the lower leg, via calf raises and having the individual do exercises where they specifically try and raise the foot evenly. Eventually progressing to exercises that involve rapid turns and quick foot movements. This through sheer repetition causes them to raise the front of the foot to avoid dragging the foot. After a period, this too becomes more second nature.

Improving Walking

Falling is probably one of the single biggest fears of any person suffering from MS, this is further intensified by the feeling of helplessness as you start to fall and are seemingly unable to do anything to arrest your fall. This usually results in the sufferer taking smaller hesitant steps, hunching down to lower your centre of gravity, not lifting the feet as high (foot droop then causes a trip hazard), use of a stick / cane and finally the person self restricts their mobility. Resulting in an overall downward spiral in fitness and health.

To arrest this and try to gain gradual improvement is difficult, but not insurmountable. My technique is to break the movements of walking down and focus on each smaller movement to ensure that the correct signals are being sent, then as the smaller movements improve we move onto supported walking on a treadmill, by supported I mean they are holding on and I am in position on the treadmill to catch them. Once that is starting to show improvement I move onto walking in free space, gradually reducing the support and eventually carrying weights. Then every subsequent session continues to re-enforce these movements. Once improvement is observed we move onto other areas of life that causes difficulty ie stairs, crowds, etc…

This article is far from a complete guide, but it is only meant to demonstrate with some careful planning, thought and support from an exercise professional a person’s freedom and mobility does not necessarily get significantly curtailed after an MS diagnosis and in reality exercising as soon as diagnosed can slow the effects MS has on your life.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Michael Wilson Founder & Fitness Coach

With over 15 years industry experience Michael is one of the most dedicated and hard working Personal Trainers in the industry. Michael has transformed countless clients physical capabilities and taken them beyond their goals, whether that’s losing weight to getting people back on their feet. Michael thrives on making a difference to the clients that struggle the most in the gym. The majority of his work is dealing with injuries. Not only restoring the body but, also the mind after challenging illness or injury.

Michael has an in depth knowledge of how the body works and has used that to train many top athletes in various different sports including Cycling, boxing, Water Polo and basketball all at the highest level. The challenge of performance at the highest level appeals to Michael’s competitive nature and studying for performance in very aspect of life is what drives him and many of his clients whether that be in sport, work or life.

Please get in touch with Michael if you have a goal or great desire for change.

  • Rehabilitation
  • Weight loss
  • Medical condtions
  • Sports performance

Charlotte Benson Personal Trainer

Charlotte’s passion for exercise began with sport and developed from being involved with a varietyof team/individual sports before solely taking part in football.

Whilst attending university in the USA on a soccer scholarship she achieved a Bachelor of Science in Sports Science and Psychology. Her focus now turns to helping athletes become the best they can be within their sport. Charlotte has an experience working with athletes from a variety of sports such as Fulham football academy, Surrey Storm Netball, Team Surrey Swimming, and individual scholar athletes involved in Skiing and Horse riding.

‘I believe that the key to success for any personal fitness goal starts from building the foundations.By carrying out corrective exercises, and individualising programs this will allow for us to progress in your training to help you find your inner athlete’.

  • Sports performance
  • Corrective exercise specialist
  • General strength & conditioning

Gerry Regnerus Personal Trainer

Gerry was born in 1969, and after a career in the military started working as a Personal Trainer in 2010. His age and experience makes Gerry the ideal trainer for mature clients. He uses a low key mentoring approach to training and believes that educating clients on the purpose of exercises as well as technique leads to the best results.

As part of his service Gerry offers a complimentary initial session and assessment.

  • Neurological injuries and dis-orders
  • Joint rehabilitation
  • Fitness for beginners
  • Posture analysis and correction

Olie Thomas Personal Trainer

Olie is an enthusiastic advocate of barbell training for everyone. As a result has been getting great results from his clients over the last 2 years applying the principles of barbell and dumbbell progressive training to all types of people. Some highlights involve helping a female client drop 12 dress sizes or 10 stone over the course of a year, and helping a male client recover from 3 torn quadriceps and getting his strength and mobility back post injury, going from being in a wheelchair to squatting 50kg in 9 months.

A firm advocate of a no-nonsense, no-fads approach to training, utilising tried and tested methods along with the latest research explained in a simple and easy to understand fashion, Olie can work with anyone from the complete beginner to the recovering athlete coming back after a period of absence.

  • Strength and muscle building
  • Body recomposition and weight loss
  • Injury rehabilitation
  • Sports performance training

Byron JohnstonStrength Coach

Byron uses his knowledge of fitness and exercise to help his clients to become strong, healthy and more confident in themselves. On his website you can see some of the many results he has guided his clients to, from huge improvements in strength, to body transformations and working with athletes to improve performance in competition.

His coaching highlights have included helping a women’s footballer get back onto the pitch playing 12 months ahead of schedule following an ACL knee surgery repair. He’s guided many of clients to be able to lift two times their own bodyweight.

Many people have come to Byron for help with losing weight, and his ability to give nutritional guidance alongside the correct gym programme has brought successes to the people he has coached.

He has also overcome the more difficult challenge of helping clients in gaining lean muscle for those who want to have a more athletic/sporting/muscular/defined physique.

  • Strengthening & conditioning
  • Expert barbell coaching
  • Dad bod and skinny fat transformations
  • Technique tune up
  • Programming to progress
x

NEW LOCATION

coming soon!

We are super excited to announce that we will soon be opening a second studio in Knaphill, Woking.

TO FIND OUT MORE...

Contact Us
x

SECOND STUDIO

now open!

We are delighted to announce that our new studio in Knaphill, Woking, is NOW OPEN!

TO FIND OUT MORE, OR ARRANGE A VIEWING...

Contact Us