10 Ways to Keep (or Improve) Your Balance With MSby Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer
According to a 2014 report, more than half of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) reported falling over a 6-month period. However, if you have MS, take heart: you can address any balance issues with targeted exercises, techniques, and practice. Remember to speak with your doctor before trying any new activities.
Get a physical evaluation
Focus on core strengthening
Core stability training has been shown to help people suffering with back pain and other disorders. There is also evidence that a core stability training program can improve your balance and mobility if you are living with MS. In at least one study looking specifically at MS, the majority of study participants improved their balance and mobility after participating in an 8-week core stability program.
Try a hamstring stretch
Your hamstring muscles play an important role in your balance. Sit with legs extended and feet together. Reach down and place both hands around your right ankle. If you can’t reach, you can wrap a towel around the bottom of your right foot. Slowly lift your right leg up, either with your hands or the towel, until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
Stretch your hip flexors
Your hip flexors connect your spine to your legs. Stand with legs a little less than shoulder-width apart. Step back with right leg and slowly lower right knee to the floor. Place hands on top of left knee. Keep back straight and slowly push pelvis downward until a stretch is felt towards the front of your right hip. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Return to a standing position and repeat on the other side.
Find your balance with blind one-legged stands
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, in order to improve your balance, you may have to lose your balance. For example, standing next to a wall that you can touch if you need to fall or lean against something, close your eyes and try to balance on one leg for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
Strengthen your legs with heel and toe raises
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly raise your heels a few inches off the floor and balance on your toes. Lower heels to the ground. Repeat 10 times. Slowly raise toes as you shift your weight onto your heels. Lower toes to the ground. Repeat 10 times.
Explore the benefits of resistance training
Resistance training, also called weight or strength training, has been shown to improve a variety of health conditions. There is also evidence it may help those with MS improve their ability to walk more naturally. In a study using an 8-week progressive resistance training program, participants with MS enjoyed improvements in their gait characteristics. In addition, participants also reported significant improvements in fatigue and disability.
Learn to adapt with a postural control challenge
This movement requires a piece of foam, which you can find online or at most sporting goods stores. Stand with both feet on the foam, which should provide a somewhat unstable surface. Keep your back straight and your head looking forward for 20 to 30 seconds. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, this exercise is designed to induce brief periods of balance loss in order to help you to learn to adapt.
Play interactive video games
Incorporating video games into rehabilitation programs is an idea that is increasingly catching on with both doctors and patients. The use of video games specifically to improve physical functioning in those with MS is also gaining traction. In at least one study, the Nintendo Wii Fit was used twice a week for six weeks and small improvements were observed in the video game group compared to the groups with no intervention.
Use compensation techniques
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, "compensation techniques" to improve balance can be as simple as using a handrail when you go up or down stairs. Other compensation aids may include a cane, brace, or walker. These techniques can help you stay balanced, especially when you feel tired, and can prevent slips and falls that may lead to injury.