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Stair Master: My Hip Flexors Don’t Lie!

Stair Master: My Hip Flexors Don’t Lie!

mike knight
What I’m about to write will sound like I am tooting my own horn.

I’m not.


But something is working for me in my battle to navigate the stairs in our house, something that might help others facing a similar situation.

So here goes.

As I wrote in December, we live in a home that is more than 90 years old and has two sets of stairs. The debilitation caused by foot drop makes it very hard for me to climb them, reducing me to slowly lifting each foot, one at a time, up every step rather than taking them in stride.

Trying to climb the stairs in stride led to a torn rotator cuff in my shoulder, earning me a strict admonition from my new physical therapist to drastically limit trips up and down the stairs.

It is serious enough that we may have to sell our home — something with meaningful financial consequences. I’m also now contemplating shoulder surgery that could keep my right arm out of commission for several months. There’s no guarantee the surgery would work, but not getting it would have far-reaching mobility issues and other implications too.

I’ve gone to a Pilates instructor with a focus on MS, Parkinson’s disease, and other issues for several years now and am sure that has helped. But beginning in October, I began a home exercise routine with an extra focus on hip flexors.

Somewhere in the past few weeks, I tried climbing the stairs in stride.

I was shocked when I could. (I’m sure I looked like Frankenstein’s monster while I did it, but I did it!)

I can’t guarantee this will work for anyone else — as always, you should check with your physician to make sure these exercises are safe for you to do — but below are the hip flexor exercises that I’m doing. Some are for stretching, some for strengthening, and admittedly, it’s a long routine. On the other hand, it doesn’t require much equipment or cost. I can do them at home and I only do the routine every other day (a frequency that keeps it bearable for me).

My rediscovered ability to climb our stairs in stride — albeit in a reduced number of trips, and woodenly at that — surprised me.

But according to this March 2016 article from MS News Today, it shouldn’t have.

Reporting research from the Kennedy Krieger Institute and John Hopkins University School of Medicine, the article detailed the study’s focus on “an effective and progressive resistance training program to improve hip strength and walking ability, areas of concern in neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS).”

The study’s workout, it said, consisted of a repetition “of a core group of movements — hip flexion, hip abduction, hip extension, hip external rotation, knee extension, and knee flexion.” It then noted, “At eight weeks, statistically significant hip strength and symmetry improvements were seen in individuals with differing degrees of disability.” Apparently, I need to read more.

Again, there are lots of caveats to all of this. I’m not a trainer, nor am I qualified to tell anyone what exercises he or she should do. This routine takes me somewhere between 75 and 90 minutes after I add in a few other exercises I like to do. It may not work for everybody. Good form is critical to isolating the right muscles and avoiding injuries.

Most of all, I am not under the pretense that what I’m doing will result in anything more than it already has. When I’m finished with it, my leg is dead and I have to be very careful not to catch my foot and trip afterward. I don’t think it’s helping my foot drop as much as it’s helping my weak (or spastic) right-upper thigh and hip.

That said, as far as I know, this is really the only gain I’ve made against the disease and, really, it’s only against the physical symptoms. But if there’s a way to wrestle something — anything — back from MS, I’ll take it.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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  1. John Cowburn says:

    Thanks Mike for the exercise information! As the main reason for my foot drop is hip flexion problems I’ve been doing one or two of these already but I’ll be adding the others you have mentioned from now on. Are you RRMS or SPMS? I’m SPMS and am gradually deteriorating but I haven’t given up hope and do a whole range of other exercises every other day (like you). I still manage to climb the stairs but it is becoming more difficult bit by bit. Thanks again. John

    • Mike Knight says:

      You’re welcome, John and thank you for reading, I appreciate it. We (my medical team) believe that I am PPMS as I can only think of two or three instances in the last 20 years that I would consider flareups/exacerbations. I’m in the same boat, slowly deteriorating, in my case along my right side. I really bumped up these hip flexor exercises both because I hoped they would help and also because I kind of like doing them (working out keeps getting harder but I am a former runner and just obstinate enough to not quit). I think being very conscientious of going up and down the stairs every day has been very helpful (it does take a strategy though and I’ve been sort of slow learning that) and I do think the exercises have helped. It may be fleeting, but at least for today it’s working!

  2. Sandi Jennings says:

    How can I get an explanation of each exercise Mike Knight refers to in his article? I would like to start doing them, thank you

      • Olive Bird says:

        These exercises sound as if they are worth a try,thank you. Can you send me a copy too, please ? I go to the gym,and will do the exercises there, as it is safe. I am 73 and had M.S.40 years.Now secondary progressive I think.Please email me a copy !!! thank you

  3. Thank you for this information. When I sit for a time my hips lock into position and it has been painful to get up. I asked my Doctor but no one has taken my concerns seriously. After reviewing these exercises and thinking about how I move, I realize my right side is not in balance with my left and I need to strengthen my core in order to support my body. I also slouch when sitting at my computer, leaving me exhausted and not as productive as I could be.I could work better incorporating exercise breaks into my day and doing some while walking the dog would also help.

    • Mike Knight says:

      You are sure welcome, Gael and thanks for reading, I appreciate it! FWIW, sitting is really hard on me, too and especially when I get up. I have found core work — and specifically Pilates — has helped my posture (sitting and standing) though my trunk still sort of leans to the right. I am pretty sure there are a handful of core exercises that could be done while sitting (I don’t do them personally, but have seen them while researching). Here’s a link that you may use to find Pilates teachers who have a focus on MS clients (and training) in your area: I’ve also benefited from a physical therapist who specializes in movement in MS/neuropathy clients (it took forever to find her though).

      Thanks again and best of luck!

  4. John Rush says:

    Great article. Have you been able to access the JoVE journal video at the article you reference? It is behind a paywall/requires subscription, but they allow you to watch first 30 secs for free and it looks like it would be helpful exercise video for MSers.

    I suffer from hip weakness, and many of these same exercises, I do. I suggest working with a physical therapist (PT) who specializes in neurology patients, if you can find one. I had worked with PTs,in the past, whose focus was more on sports medicine, or general PT, and while they had some helpful exercises/programs, there is a day and night difference between them and the knowledge of someone specializing in neurological conditions – much greater understanding of usual problems such as foot drop, etc.

    • Mike Knight says:

      Thank you John, I appreciate it. I did see a few seconds of that video but then when I saw it was behind a pay wall didn’t go any further. Thanks for the follow-up though!

      You are totally spot on Re: physical therapist with the neurology/neuropathy focus. It took me several years to find her, but, as you said, her experience in treatment approach is very different than the “general population” PTs that I’ve seen in the past. Traditional physical therapists (of the big, chain variety) have all been very nice and professional, they just don’t know how to account for, and factor in, MS and all its vagaries. I also found that approach (traditional therapists) to be very frustrating and counterproductive as it tended to reinforce the capacity I was losing as opposed to reinforcing the capacity I still have.

      Thanks again!

  5. John Rush says:

    I also notes on your personal website that you had a “minimalist” Nike shoe you liked for gait issues. With hip weakness, I have issues catching my feet, tripping related to not being able to lift my legs very high (ie, a “normal” gait) – I shuffle. I receive no kickbacks, but I suggest folks explore options of looking at “minimalist” shoes – not much rubber/foam between foot and ground. I still shuffle and stumble but not nearly as much when I am wearing minimalist shoes. I clear the ground more easily – I do not lift my feet any higher as there is less foam on bottom of foot to catch on the ground. I found the Cole Haan Tucker Venetian good in this regard for a dress shoe, and the Merrill Vapor Glove for an athletic shoe. Your mileage may vary. Googling minimalist shoes has many options. Certainly not a cure but incrementally helpful.

    • Mike Knight says:

      Thanks so much…It sounds like we are in much the same position in terms of foot drop and tripping and all. I appreciate the tip!

  6. Jill says:

    Great info and great workout too! After being diagnosed 5 years ago I still find it hard to adapt from being a person who loved to workout every day to this new life of pain and stiffness. I hope this workout helps in some way.
    Thank you!

    • Mike Knight says:

      Thanks so much for reading my column, Jill. I miss being able to workout like that also. I hope you find these exercises helpful, and also, if you can find a Pilates instructor with MS training I highly recommend it. We have to workaround my right leg more now but it’s still a really hard and rewarding workout that’s great for core strength and balance!

  7. Jame Miller says:

    I am also an MSer and suffer from foot drop and weak hip flexor muscles as well. I have been through PT numerous times and it helped with core muscle development but I continued to lose ground on mobility. I decided to try and design something to help me with the weak hip flexor issues and the foot drop. Take a look at my device. I call it the Flexion Support System and you can check it out on the website. I have been using it for over a year and it has helped me with both lifting my leg and keeping my foot from droping. Both the uppper and lower sections are adjustable so it can be fine tuned. Take a look and let me know what you think.


  8. Mary Sheehan says:

    Hi husband has MS and has similar troubles with the stairs. Would you be willing to share the details of the hip-flexor exercises??

    • Mike Knight says:

      Hello, Mary,
      Thank you so much for reading the column and also for the inquiry, I appreciate both! There should be a number of links to the exercises themselves (either in photos or videos… Please let me know if they are not working or you cannot find them). I’m not sure if I can add too much beyond that, but I am happy to help in any way that I can. I continue to do most of the exercises listed in the article, but atrophy is kind of having its way with my legs right now, so I’m not nearly as strong as I was last year at this point. Every once in a while I can still do a handful of steps the “normal” way and I’m grateful for that :-)! Thanks again… Mike

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