MS By The Pool

Patient Expert
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Summertime is a great time for splashing around in the water, hanging out at the pool or lounging on the beach. Here’s what you need to know about pool safety, aquatic exercise, and the best gear to keep your multiple sclerosis in shape.

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Benefit from water

Year round, pool time can be a cool time to get some exercise, find tranquility, and maintain an active lifestyle. Aquatic exercise is excellent for improving strength and flexibility when you live with multiple sclerosis. Water helps to support the body, promote muscle relaxation, increase range of motion, provide gentle resistance, and keep the body cooler. Organized aquatic classes can be fun, provide social support, and help you stay motivated.

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Invest in aquatic shoes

Aquatic shoes or socks made with rubber soles reduce the risk of slipping and falling near the pool. Water shoes made of mesh are great to wear during aquatic exercise classes, especially those that take place in the shallow end of the pool, as they protect sensitive feet from repetitive contact with the pool floor.

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Put safety first

Stay out of the water if you are sick or have any open wounds. Do not go swimming with an IV in your arm, for example, if you are in the middle of a round of steroids. Use the buddy system. Always swim with a friend or around other people who can provide assistance, particularly if no lifeguard is nearby. Also, use sunscreen, even if it’s a cloudy day, and stay in shaded lounging areas when you are not in the pool.

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Have fun with flotation devices

Swim fitness belts or similar wearable flotation devices are essential pieces of equipment for water walking, aquatic fitness classes, and overall safety. The buoyancy of the belt not only keeps your upper body above water, but it allows your legs to move more freely in the water. Experiment with pool noodles or kickboards to increase your fun in the pool.

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Walk it out

A popular aquatic exercise that doesn’t require you to get your face wet in the pool is water walking. It’s simple to do. You can stay in the shallow end and keep a hand on the edge of the pool if you’d like. Wear a swim belt and “walk” in the deep end of the pool. Hold a couple of water barbells in your hands and get a great arm workout at the same time.

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Be a ballerina

The weightlessness of the water makes leg lifts almost fun. Stand at the edge of the pool and hold on if you need to for balance.

  • Side leg lifts: Lift right leg to the side five to eight times. Repeat with left leg.
  • Back leg lifts: Lift right leg straight back five to eight times. Be careful to keep your back straight. Repeat with left leg.
  • Knee lifts or marching in place: Lift one knee up and down, then the other. Repeat five to eight times.

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Stretch it out

With the support of the water, stretching tight muscles can seem easier to do than on land. Try holding on to the edge of the pool and place one foot somewhere on the wall. Alternate straightening and bending your knee to stretch your hamstring. Keep your toes on the wall and reach the heel of your foot toward the wall to stretch your Achilles tendon and calf muscles. Repeat with your other leg.

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Slice through the water

Swim fins are one of my favorite pieces of swim equipment. When wearing swim fins, I can really feel my leg muscles work from hip to ankle as they push against the increased resistance of the water. Combine fins with a paddle board and you can slide through the water at an exciting pace. But make sure that nobody is in your lane to avoid a high-speed collision.

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Carry it all in style

If you are part of an aquatic exercise class, the pool facility may provide certain pieces of equipment. If you purchased your own, you want to be able to carry it all easily and in style. I have an oversized mesh bag that allows my equipment to dry. You may want to use a beach bag. Either way, make sure that air can reach all of the nooks and crannies of your equipment to reduce the risk of mold.

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Learn more from the experts

For more information about aquatic fitness and MS, check out the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America’s Introduction to MS Aquatic Fitness video, which demonstrates a wide variety of shallow-water exercises designed specifically for the MS community and the Aquatic Physical Therapy and Multiple Sclerosis video produced by Laura Diamond, which offers an introduction to using aquatic physical therapy for managing MS symptoms and enhancing fitness.