30th Mar 2018

MS-targeting exercise and tech can prevent falls despite nerve damage

30th Mar 2018

Curated by Francisco Anaya Reyes

Mounting steps with the help of an exoskeleton
Imagine doing your shopping: suddenly your leg gives out and you find yourself on the floor with a tipped-over basket. Falling is common for MS patients, but specific exercises and futuristic tech can compensate for the nerve damage and improve balance.

In 10 seconds? Research shows that despite the gradual decline in mobility that results from MS, patients can fight back to regain movement, suffer less dizziness and fatigue by following a tailored exercise programme. (Read the science)

What’s the discovery? In a recent study of 88 MS patients, the group who followed a special exercise regime achieved stability scores of 75 on the test scale, whilst the control group only hit 65. To compare, healthy adults reach at least 90 points. Patients who did the exercise also reported less MS-related dizziness and fatigue. (Read more)

How did they do it? The scientists specifically chose stability exercises to target aspects of balancing, gait and vision usually eroded by MS. For example, the test group were asked to walk with or without head movement, do certain eye movements, and balance on different surfaces. (More on the study)

But what makes people with MS fall over? Damaged nerves in their brain affect their balance, vision and mobility. MS can also weaken just one side of the body, causing muscle stiffness and blurred vision. Patients might miss obstacles due to reduced detection of contrast or colours and fall. Additionally, they just might not feel where their feet are while walking. (Learn more)

Can technology help? Yes! Studies have shown robot-assisted gait training is effective for MS patients with severe walking disabilities. Previously seen in sci-fi movies, powered exoskeletons are now here to offer stability and power if you have leg weakness. They consist of an adjustable rigid frame that fits to the pelvis, thighs and legs, with powered footplates. (Read more)

And what’s the benefit? Three words: quality of life. Scientists monitored the heart rate and oxygen consumption of an exoskeleton-wearing MS patient in combination with muscle activity and found that wearing the suit helped the patient to get further with less energy. Also, the device senses the user’s centre of gravity and reacts to help them maintain natural gait. Being able to walk and avoid falls is great news for MS patients! (More on the clinical trial involving exoskeletons)

Why the fear of falling is a risk in itself

Research shows that people with MS who have fallen once are statistically at a greater risk of falling again.

For some patients the fear of falling can be so huge that it can seriously affect their engagement in physical activity.

People with MS are therefore encouraged to learn to manage this fear, so that they just have enough fear to stay safe, but not be so afraid as to avoid getting on their feet at all.

(Psst, Francisco distilled 13 research papers to save you 723.2 min)

Curated by

Francisco Anaya Reyes

Francisco is a PhD student at the Advanced Robotic Centre, National University of Singapore, researching robotic gait training and functional electrical stimulation.

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