Stretching is a simple and all-natural therapy for reduced range of motion and spasticity caused by MS. Both symptoms can lead to limited mobility, pain and reduced enjoyment of life.
But that doesn't have to happen. You CAN maintain and even increase your flexibility through stretching.
What is stretching?
Stretching is a process of muscle and soft tissue elongation that is thought to:
- Increase range of motion and flexibility
- Promote relaxation
- Reduce pain
- Improve function and mobility
- Normalize muscle tone and tightness
- Prevent contractures (joints with limited mobility due to spasticity)
There are no conclusive studies on the long-term benefits of stretching on people with MS. Within existing studies, stretching parameters vary widely, so make sure to discuss any regimen with your healthcare provider first. Ask your chapter about stretching classes with instructors experienced in MS.
Try active or passive stretching:
- Active stretching contracts the muscles opposite the ones being stretched. For example, when you contract your buttock muscles to lift the pelvis, you will simultaneously stretch the front thigh.
- In passive stretching, gravity can assist the stretch, or another person can manually stretch you. Equipment such as a brace that holds the joint at a specific angle, or a serial cast, which increases a stretch over time are other options. Ergometers, or arm cycles, also work well for managing spasticity and maintaining range of motion. Ask if you can use one in a physical therapist's (PT) office.
A little medical help
Sometimes medication is used in combination with stretching to manage spasticity. Baclofen is one option that can either be taken orally or via a pump. Botox injections to local muscles are another possibility. Discuss options with your neurologist and PT.
Some helpful guidelines
- Stretch on a daily basis when possible.
- Include muscle groups that are tight or in spasm.
- Do slow, gentle, prolonged stretches to the point where you feel a gentle pulling, but not pain.
- Hold stretches for 20-60 seconds or 5-10 breaths.
- Avoid bouncing movements.
- Use assistance as needed: a partner, towel or strap (talk to a yoga teacher or PT about what you can use to help you stretch — and how to use it).
Author: Victoria Szwajcer, BScPT, RYT, Physical Therapist at the University of British Columbia Hospital's MS Clinic, Vancouver, BC
Staff, Can Do Multiple Sclerosis