A Word about Walking

While most people diagnosed with MS will retain their mobility during the course of the disease, two-thirds eventually need some kind of mobility device, whether it's a walker or a cane or a scooter.

Muscle weakness is the most common cause for gait disturbances (difficulty with walking) and can cause problems such as foot drag, toe drop, and other abnormalities. Walking may also be impaired by other MS symptoms, such as lack of coordination, fatigue, spasticity, dizziness, sensory changes, and vertigo. Because so many different factors can sabotage your ability to walk effectively, it's important to pinpoint the cause. Tools such as exercise, physical therapy, medications, and assistive devices can make a big difference. Each person must have his walking difficulties evaluated by a trained health care professional.

Assistive Devices

There are a variety of assistive devices that can help people manage the symptoms of MS, and once folks get past the psychological barriers to using them, they find an increased sense of freedom and opportunity. An assistive device is a tool or a product that makes certain functions easier to perform. An occupational or physical therapist can evaluate your needs and prescribe these devices for you. Here's a list of some tools you might find useful:

  • Orthotics. These are lightweight inserts worn inside the shoes that can be used to increase stability and decrease fatigue. They also help with spasticity in the foot as well as bracing the foot when walking.

  • Leg braces. Weakness of the leg muscles can make it difficult to walk up and down the stairs, get up from a chair, or walk. An ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) can help address this issue. The ankle brace stabilizes the ankle if there is weakness in the foot. It fits into an ordinary shoe and prevents the toes from dragging.

  • Canes. If one leg is weaker than the other, a cane may be your most useful tool. They also help to improve balance. The canes today are not your grandfather's canes. They have models to fit every personality and mood.

  • Walkers. If there is significant leg weakness, walkers are extremely useful tools, providing balance and stability. Wheels or platforms can also be added.

  • Scooters and wheelchairs. Technology has helped these devices grow into functional, sleek, and efficient tools for full-or part-time users. Wheelchairs are usually recommended for folks who have excessive fatigue or unsteadiness, or are prone to falling, but others use them on a part-time basis to conserve energy and stamina. A good resource to help you familiarize yourself with these devices is www.abledata.com.

There are thousands of other products on the market to assist in making your life a little easier. From hand-held shower heads to special writing utensils, these devices are there to help you find shortcuts for routine activities so you can better manage your symptoms.

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