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MS Spasticity and You: Five Stretches You Should Try (and Why)


An estimated 85 percent of people with MS experience some type of spasticity due to the disease, according to a recent report (p/w) published in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

Why is that important? Because spasticity is behind many of the disease’s most debilitating physical, emotional and mental challenges.

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, spasticity is “a tightness or stiffness of the muscles” that occurs most commonly in the legs, groin and buttocks and occasionally in the back, muscles that profoundly affect our ability to stand upright, walk and balance ourselves.

Worse, spasticity’s effects can negatively influence quality of life in those with MS, and can lead to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, while affecting relationships, employment, fatigue, bladder dysfunction and more.

Since spasticity tends to affect lower extremities more, these stretches focus on hips, calves, ankles and feet. They are meant to be introductions to stretching routines that may alleviate spasticity but are by no means comprehensive or make up a complete routine (see your physical therapist for that).

For free, illustrated guides that you may download and print, go here and here. And as with any new exercise, please consult an MS specialist, doctor or physical therapist before trying any of these.

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Hip crossovers
The goal of this stretch is to decrease tightness in the hips by stretching and lengthening your hip muscles. Though there are variations of it, the basic idea is to lie on your back and if possible, bend your knees into a 45° angle, pull them together and then gently let both knees slowly rotate to one side, holding the stretch for 30 seconds.

Keep your arms to the side (like the letter “T”), palms down. The goal is to stretch your hips, not to force your knees to the floor (in general, never force your body to do any stretch or exercise).

As with all of the stretches listed here, adherence to form is critical, so go slowly!

Hip flexor stretch
According the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, “The hip flexors are the muscles on the front of your pelvis. They help leg movement when you walk, kick, climb stairs, or stand. When you are in a seated position for long periods of time, these are the muscles that really need a good stretch.”

This is a nice exercise to do because not only does it stretch the hip flexor, it also has a focus on relaxation, something the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of America emphasizes in its approach to managing spasticity, too. You can also do it while lying on your bed!

  • Lie on your bed on your back so that your knees hang off the edge of the bed.
  • You should feel the stretch in the front of your leg where it attaches to your hip.
  • Hold. Listen to your body to know what an appropriate hold time is for you. Try working up to a 30- to 60-second hold.

Go here for a comprehensive, illustrated set of stretching exercises from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

Calf stretch
Mariska Breland is a professional Pilates instructor who also has MS. Here’s how she stretches tight calf muscles: “Place a half foam roller or rolled up towel on the floor, and step on it with the ball of your foot with your heel down on the floor. Step the opposite leg forward, but keep the weight in the back foot. This will be one of the most intense and effective calf stretches you will ever do.” (h/t Katy Bowman.)

Go here for a TheraBand-based calf stretch that you may also find effective.

MORE: How massage and bodywork is used to treat MS patients

Ankle stretch (heel cord stretch)
An easy-to-do stretch that requires only a towel and a bed, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, here’s how to do a good ankle stretch that may reduce ankle spasticity that may exacerbate foot drop:

  • Sit on bed or steady chair with your back straight.
  • Let one leg hang down.
  • Put a towel around the bottom of your active foot, lift the leg and pull on the towel with both hands.
  • Hold for 20–30 seconds.
  • Repeat on other side.

For an instructional video that includes ankle stretching, spasticity release and also strengthening, go here.

Foot roll
According to Breland, foot problems in neurological disorders including MS are common because “the feet are the furthest away from the brain. Nerves have to travel from your feet all the way to your brain and back again in order to work correctly.”

Foot rolls using a small rubber ball  may lessen spasticity which may improve balance and mobility, especially in foot drop.

Though the basics are to stand on the ball using each foot while holding onto a chair or some other device for stability, while rolling the ball slowly along each foot, being attentive for spots that seem disengaged. For great instructional video, go here.

MORE: Three tips for newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis patients

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 another 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.

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    • Mike Knight says:

      Thanks, David. I am not a healthcare professional but believe the exercises were meant to help anyone experiencing spasticity regardless of the form of MS. I also think these are a starting point, that is, there are so many stretches/exercises that would be helpful to us (I have primary progressive, can still walk with a cane but not far, right hand not functioning, etc.).

      FWIW, I have found that consistency and adherence to form while doing any stretching/exercising have been critical to getting results and of course, sometimes even that isn’t enough.

      Thanks again, I hope that helps!

      • Kathy says:

        I identify with all of what you have said. I have Sec Prog MS. MS began when I was 20, I am now 64. I now use a combination of 2 crutches, a walker (new) for inside the home to help me carry things. I read a book about 4 years ago by Dr Terry Wahls who has MS & is also involved in leading Clinical trials. One of the things she mentioned was using stimulation when exercising & the notion that one will never get the benefit from exercise alone as the benefit that you will get when also using stimulation when exercising. I use Empi which she mentioned. I have regular consultation with a physio & for each focus of exercise, I change the location of the electrodes. I also use the exercises you mentioned re: resistance training to improve hip strength & walking ability, plus. Keep trying, eh? Kathy

    • Michael says:

      Thank you. This looks great. If you could email/text me offline. I had some specific questions I would like to ask. Thank you again!

    • Mike Knight says:

      Hi, thanks, but no, these aren’t available that way, only exercises that I found in researching this story. Not too long ago I wrote a column about the exercise routine that I do every other day, but it does not include these stretches. Here’s a link to that column: My exercise routine is currently specifically-focused on strengthening my hip flexors in order to stem foot drop issues and includes a great deal of core work. I am not a healthcare professional, just a writer with MS. The exercise routine I do is just the best I’ve been able to cobble together on my own and with the help of a Pilates instructor and physical therapist:-).

      Thanks so much!

  1. Sheri says:

    Thank you for this. Stretching pre MS always felt so natural. Now with spasticity my body acting so differently, the nauseating pain of it is more than I can handle. If stretching on purpose in advance can help keep myself less spastic that would be fabulous. Either way, I will be doing these stretches…anything to help.

    • Mike Knight says:

      Thank you for reading this piece, I appreciate it. There are a couple of links in the article to a couple of significantly more comprehensive guides (PDF files) that you may want to check out because there may be other routines that you find more effective.

      Personally, I find that I feel better mentally and emotionally when I routinely force myself to move around, whether it’s Pilates or stretching/resistance routines I do at home. At the same time, there is always such a fine, if constantly moving, line between feeling good, or better, and overdoing it (which then sets me back for a day or two because I have over-fired and overworked my muscles).

      I know what you’re saying about how stretching used to feel and how unnatural it feels now. I have found that there seems to be (for me anyway) a sweet spot to stretching, and when I find it I do feel better. Totally just a guess, but I think perhaps the unpredictability of the disease may mean that alleviating its symptoms is equally elusive, and what works one day may well not the other.

      I do hope these help, and thanks again!

      • Sally says:

        Most of the stretches you have to lay on your back. What if you are unable to do this. Any suggestions? All my muscles are so tight I don’t know what to do. Very limited as to what I can do.

        • Mike Knight says:

          Thanks, Sally, I appreciate you reading the piece and also the inquiry. I am not a healthcare professional. I do have MS (we believe primary progressive) and worried that these exercises might exclude some folks with greater mobility issues than I have. I don’t know if you have someone who can help you stretch, but if so, you might check this out:

          I also found a video that shows some reasonably straightforward massage techniques that you might find helpful (here:

          If you haven’t already, I would urge you to meet with someone from your MS healthcare team to suggest other stretches and exercises specifically for your mobility abilities.

          Thanks again for reading, I hope this was helpful!

  2. Katya says:

    Every body speak about spasticity but no one speak about reasons for them. Good to know the reason, aren’t you. Here what I know.
    When chidrochloric acid is low
    the body cannot get rid of acidic byproduct like buturic acid, lacktic acid and so on. This acids start build up in the body especially in the muscles.
    This couse spasticity. Also when people exercise they build lactic acid too.
    The solution to get rid of it is sodium bicarbonate.

  3. LD says:

    I was diagnosed with MS back in 1980 and now i am 65 with SPMS. iI am in a power wheelchair and cannot walk or even stand anymore but I do some kind of movement therapy every day. I find Pilates and gyrotonic (a special piece of equipment) one-on-one with an instructor has been crucial in maintaining my upper body and core strength while also helping with my rather severe spasticity. I also go to a Wellness clinic 2x/week and do hand cycling and/or functional electrical stimulation on my legs for leg cycling. These exercises keep me moving, maintain whatever strength I have, and also help alleviate pain and spasticity. I believe this drive to move has kept me healthy regardless of what MS has done to me. Keep moving no matter how small that movement might be! Thanks for the informative article!

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