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Falls: managing the ups and downs of MS Problems with mobility and balance

There are a number of MS symptoms that can increase the risk of falling by affecting the way someone walks. These include muscle stiffness (spasticity) and spasm, weakness and numbness, tremor, pain and fatigue.

Some problems can be caused by interruptions to the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. If the brain says move but the message doesn't reach the leg, this can result in a fall.

Sensory problems may affect the way in which someone walks. For example, numbness can reduce an individual's perception of the way their feet are touching the ground, or over-sensitive feet may mean that someone is more tentative in the way they walk.

MS can also affect balance and cause dizziness or vertigo. This can make it difficult to remain upright, unsupported, even when standing still.

As well as seeking appropriate treatment for any of these symptoms that may affect you, there are ways in which the risk of them causing a fall can be reduced.

What to do:

  • Consider rearranging the room, perhaps with strategically placed furniture for 'furniture walking' if necessary. Ensure any furniture used in this manner is sturdy enough for the purpose
  • Take care when bending down and make sure you are steady before walking. Stand up slowly after lying or sitting
  • If you are tripping due to catching your toes, your GP or MS team may be able to offer solutions, such as a foot or ankle splint or functional electrical stimulation (FES) (see the MS Trust's FES factsheet)
  • Try to be physically active every day. Particular activities that can help maintain or improve your balance include yoga, tai chi and pilates
  • A physiotherapist can advise whether a walking aid, such as a stick or frame, would help. It is important that any aid is adjusted to the correct height and properly maintained (eg worn ferrules replaced). If the handles are slippery, particularly when wearing gloves, cover them with non slip material
  • If you think tiredness is a contributory factor to your falls consider fatigue management techniques eg rests, pacing yourself and ensuring you are eating and drinking enough (see the MS Trust book Read, order or download Living With Fatigue)

Next page - Using a wheelchair