Exercise…For some that word conjures up negative feelings like a tedious task, a bad movie your spouse makes you watch, or homework. For others, exercise represents “me time”, feeling of wellness and accomplishment, taking care of yourself. For those who look at exercise as a negative, let’s capitalize on that last description – “taking care of your self”.
When MS impairs your mobility more and more, exercise can pose yet one more challenge. There are adaptations that can be helpful. Some will argue that there’s nothing that Velcro and duct tape can’t adapt. There are a variety of low tech and hi tech options. Not to plug our professions, but it’s highly recommended that you seek advice from a physical therapist or an occupational therapist before purchasing any equipment in order to spend your or your insurance money more wisely.
First, let’s outline what a comprehensive exercise program looks like. You need exercises that address your flexibility, strength, balance and cardio or endurance.
Flexibility is important as we age as our muscles are innately less flexible. Also, inactivity means less opportunity to naturally stretch thru mobility activities. Some tricks we recommend for stretching are to use a belt, theraband stretching strap or a towel. If you’re in a power wheelchair, request power elevating leg rests. There are also splinting options e.g dynasplints or JAS. A standing table is also a good opportunity to address flexibility as well as relax your spasticity. Strength training can be as simple as theraband attached to a doorknob or other fixtures. For significantly more money, an arm bike, arm with leg bike or Flexiciser can provide strength training and cardio training. Wii can provide balance training. (There aren’t rules against sitting on the platform). Be sure to look for recreational opportunities that provide fitness opportunities e.g. cycling/ handcycling or sit skiing. Also consider a (cool) pool. Water buoyancy can accommodate much impairment.
Occupational therapy can be a terrific tool in your arsenal when difficulties or challenges present themselves in your daily life. I am continually amazed at the clever inventiveness of people and how they can solve a problem. Whether challenges face you in mobility, meal preparation/eating, dressing, bathing, balance, stair climbing, walking, exercise or work activities someone has invented a tool or posture that alleviates or eases the problem. Occupational therapists are the consultants that can help you match your needs with those clever tools/equipment.
Often, the biggest challenge lies in identifying whether you should be using a tool or adaptive equipment yet. Many people have told me they feel using adaptive equipment means they are conceding to M.S. and they have “given in” to the disease. In these instances it is important to consult with an occupational therapist to evaluate your specific situation. Many times a simple adjustment to your posture can mean greater ease and independence in an activity. At other times the application of adaptive equipment/tools can free up precious energy and time you might wish to use elsewhere in your day. Sometimes, the application of equipment or a tool can mean independence instead of dependence to complete an activity. The choices are many and the results can be dramatic! Be sure to investigate adaptive equipment/tool options!