Group exercise could be very beneficial in improving the health of multiple sclerosis patients, according to Sheila Lennon, Physiotherapy Professor from Flinders University, in Adelaide, Australia. Lennon is the creator of a new training manual for clinicians, as she advocates the need for regular and ongoing physiotherapy in the public health system.
The training manual Lennon is developing consists of structured group exercises for MS patients, and aims to enable clinicians to conduct the program for patients without putting excessive demands on public health departments and programs. “Instead of seeing one person at a time, which clogs up waiting lists, the physiotherapist could run the classes over a six-week period every three months so people can join in when they want and continue using the exercises at home between breaks in the program,” Lennon explained.
MS is a disease that often affects people early in their lives, between the ages of 20 and 45. As a result, the therapist believes that the fact that patients still work, raise their families, and deal with financial responsibilities are all major reasons to try to improve their quality of life.
Throughout her preliminary research, Dr. Lennon noticed inequalities in how MS is rehabbed in public health systems, since with other conditions, such as stroke, patients are admitted to an inpatient or outpatient unit for a period of rehabilitation, and receive a targeted rehab approach together with follow-up treatment. People with MS, on the other hand, don’t typically have access to these kinds of services, and structured group exercises could make therapy more accessible.
“Patients might be entitled to a few sessions with a physiotherapist to work out a management plan, but because MS is a long-standing, progressive condition it’s not possible for physiotherapists to see and review them on a regular basis,” the physiotherapist said. Lennon is currently discussing the feasibility of running the program with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of SA/NT and SA Health.
Lennon’s manual is the result of a study she led in the UK, in which she verified the exercise benefits in the balance, mobility, and quality of life of 177 MS patients, between 2008 and 2011. During the study, the physiotherapist and an assistant facilitated circuit-style exercise classes for groups of up to eight participants, in sessions that also included an educational component about self-management and goal-setting strategies, particularly regarding fall prevention.
“The participants were taught exercises that they could easily carry out in their own homes or communities, we didn’t use any fancy equipment because the whole idea was to make it accessible,” Professor Lennon said. The conclusions of the study were presented at the World Congress for NeuroRehabilitation in 2012 and at the Australian Physiotherapy Combined Sections Conference in 2013, said. “The take home message from the study was that it really is feasible to treat people with MS in a group exercise setting in the community.”