That happened to me when I took long walks in DC with my niece last month. This matters to me. Next year I want to walk a week on the Camino Santiago and that won’t happen if walking hurts.
What to do?
The good news is that we CAN do something about it.
When this was clearly a problem for me, my first stop was Google, where I learned that MS spasticity can take the form of stiff, pained joints. I needed to counteract this.
- First, I ordered tennis shoes which promised to end my knee soreness. (They came, and immediately they worked!)
- Second, I discovered the common wisdom to counteract MS spasticity—Stretch.
Why do we need to stretch?
For people with MS stiff soreness happens more easily and the first line of defense is stretching. Why does this problem happen more to us? Because of MS spasticity. Spasticity contracts our muscles and after a while it hurts, makes us stiff.
What causes spasticity
Our electrical signals are imbalanced. This is a result of MS, and affects 80 percent of us (http://www.webmd.com/multiple-sclerosis/guide/controlling-muscle-spasms-multiple-sclerosis).
Exercise when done right [stretch, rest] helps control spasticity (http://www.nationalmssociety.org/NationalMSSociety/media/MSNationalFiles/Brochures/Brochure-Stretching-for-People-with-MS-An-Illustrated-Manual.pdf).
Stretching is a Major Treatment for MS Spasticity
MS spasticity is treated with a basic stretching program. This counteracts contraction, which is what spasticity has done to our muscles (http://www.nytimes.com/ health/guides/disease/multiple-sclerosis/print.html).
Daily stretching of our muscles to their full length does two things
- It helps us manage spasticity,
- It makes it possible to start moving without the tentative creeping that is the result of stiff and sore muscles.
Combining stretching and joint stabilization exercises can not only reverse the problem of spasticity, but also can improve our muscle ability (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3996406/).
Range of motion stretching One form of stretching is range of motion exercises. That means moving our joint as far as we can. Range of motion (ROM) is said to be considered the basis of fitness and it minimizes risk of injury when practiced regularly [my italics] (Petajan JH, White AT. Recommendations for physical activity in patients with multiple sclerosis. Sports Med. 1999;27(3):179–91. [PubMed]).
When should we stretch?
We should do light stretching, lasting 20 to 60 seconds, before and after exercise (White LJ, Dressendorfer RH. Exercise and multiple sclerosis. Sports Med. 2004;34(15):1077–100.[PubMed]).
I’m recovering from a week of real pain in my knees, and stiffness, so I stretch in the morning and after I exercise. It works.
Unexpected results of exercise and movement: brain activity!
Here is great news about we who have MS. When compared to other groups of people, our brain gets activated in a unique way when we move our muscles. Why?
Because of something called neuroplasticity. Our brains are discovering how to create new pathways to recover lost functions (Cifelli A, Matthews PM. Cerebral plasticity in multiple sclerosis: insights from fMRI. Mult Scler.2002;8(3):193–9 [PubMed], Rocca MA, Falini A, Colombo B, Scotti G, Comi G, Filippi M,.Ann Neurol. 2002;51(3):330–9. [PubMed], http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3375103/). [Note—don’t feel left out if you don’t have MS, this plasticity is dormant in your brain and will kick in on an as-needed basis.]
How often should we stretch?
As often as we get sore and stiff muscles (https://www.researchgate.net/
profile/ /Helen_Dawes/publication/5322125_The_Effects_of_Stretching_in_Spasticity_A Systematic_Review/links/09e4150741d30bb260000000.pdf,
The great news is—we have ways of healing our own stiffness. Stretching takes less than 2 minutes. It feels good. It works.
We can challenge spasticity, using that tried and true sports trainer method. It's so easy! Stretch!
[What else can we do? Reduce inflammation--next week I want to look at studies that tell more about what we all suspected all along, that what we eat and when we eat can shift inflammation up or down--our choice!]