Multiple sclerosis can affect your balance in a number of ways both directly, as a result of MS damage, and indirectly from the impact of other MS symptoms.

Health professionals can work with you to determine the cause of your balance problems and find ways to manage the symptom which may include exercises. Not all balance problems are MS related.    

What are balance problems?

There are a number of MS symptoms that can worsen balance and increase the risk of falling. These include muscle stiffness (spasticity and spasms), weakness and numbness, tremor, pain, visual problems and fatigue. MS can also cause dizziness and vertigo which can make it difficult to remain upright, unsupported, even when standing still.

What causes balance problems?

Balance 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 and thus affect their balance. 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.

How many people experience balance problems?

Around one in five people have reported balance problems as one of their first symptoms of MS. Studies have found that seven out of ten people experience balance problems at some time during the course of their condition.

What can I do if I have balance problems?

Because there are a number of factors which can affect balance, it is important that balance problems are investigated thoroughly by a physiotherapist or other health professional. Not all balance problems may be MS related.

What treatments are there for balance problems?

Several different approaches can be tried to improve balance including exercises, Yoga, Tai Chi and pilates. Research is also investigating use of  step training and sensory stimulation programmes. Balance problems can also be managed to some extent by being aware of factors that make balance worse and that might increase the risk of a fall.

Last updated: April 2016
Last reviewed: April 2016
This page will be reviewed within three years

More references

  • Gunnh, et al Systematic review: the effectiveness of interventions to reduce falls and improve balance in adults with multiple sclerosis Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 2015 96:1898-912. Summary

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