MS Fatigue and Balance Issues? Get in the Pool!

Ahhh. I’m just back from the pool. Not, unfortunately, at a tropical resort where a waiter is on hand to serve up some exotic concoction in an oversized glass and garnished with an umbrella. Though it was a hotel pool — this was our local fitness center that I’m using to rehab my hip and back after my Christmastime falls.

I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with the physiotherapist who worked with me during a weeklong inpatient MS rehabilitation clinic I attended back in the summer of 2001. She had notes from our sessions together — some of which were in a therapy pool — and suggested that I get back in the water for a while.

A series of low-impact movements to increase my range of motion while not impacting on the joints and soft tissue affected by my falls was prescribed. That I have a local pool less than 2 kilometers away for this course of rehabilitation is convenient, indeed, and I am feeling the benefits after just a few sessions.

My therapist feels it won’t be long before I’ll be ready to resume my “land-based” exercise — walking.

Study Finds Benefits for Fatigue and Balance

This experience brings to mind a study I read last summer in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders. (Oh, don’t I have some “related disorders”!) In it, researchers combed through 170 published researcher papers and found 16 studies that satisfied their criteria for review.

In collating the data from those studies, which followed nearly 800 people with MS, they found significant evidence that aquatic therapy shows benefit in improving fatigue and balance issues for people with MS.

The research team was also looking for evidence that water-based exercise might improve motor function in people with MS.

While they observed evidence of improvements in fatigue, based on the Modified Fatigue Impact Scale (MFIS) and better balance scores on the Berg Balance Scale (BBS), they reported no data to indicate improvement in motor function based on in-pool therapy.

As many of us know, cognitive difficulties can increase when we are fatigued, so one can assume that some clearing of the old cog fog might be an added benefit to donning the swim togs and getting into the water.

Tips for Successful Water Exercise With MS

A few tips that were given to me by my physiotherapist that I’ll pass on:

  • Mind yourself on the way in and out of the pool. From changing room and showers to the poolside decking, slips and falls are far easier on these wet surfaces, and we already have a risk of falls.
  • Look for cool pool water. Ask about the temperature that your local pool keeps its water. It’s not unusual for them to try to keep it on the warm side when they are thinking of therapy as it can benefit some. (Think: arthritis.) Cooler water would be better for most of us with MS.
  • Cool off before and after. If your pool is a bit warm, take a cooling shower before and after your exercise session. This will help to keep your body core temperature down and hopefully avert any pseudoexacerbations.
  • Be gentle with yourself. As you would with any new exercise routine, work up to your pool exercises. Get some advice from a physical therapist on some simple exercises to begin, and advance them as your body is ready.

Wishing you and your family the best of health.



My book Chef Interrupted is available on Amazon. Follow me on the Life With MS Facebook page, and read more on Life With Multiple Sclerosis.

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