A team of researchers from the Case Western Reserve’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing has designed a 24-week exercise program tailored specifically for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) in varying states of disease progression. The program drew inspiration and structure from a series of informational pamphlets on MS patients’ tolerance of physical activity in relation to their individual set of symptoms, allowing inactive patients to take up an easier regimen and progress to more difficult levels of activity at their own pace.
Assistant professor and specialized MS exercise trainer, Matthew Plow, said that the informational pamphlets have been effective in encouraging MS patients to start and maintain a reasonable exercise routine, which is an important element in offsetting a neurodegenerative disease’s debilitating effects. Symptoms of MS include pain, fatigue, numbness and tingling, weakness, dizziness, stiffness, vision problems, difficulty walking, cognitive and emotional impairment — all of which can be countered by regular physical activity, according to recent studies.
Matthew Plow led the study that evaluated the 24-week exercise program, which designed for home use to help patients maintain their balance, gait, movement and coordination in the upper extremities. According to Plow, a trainer and/or an exercise program needs to address the five key stages of an individual’s readiness to affect a lifestyle change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance of an exercise program.
Plow’s study enrolled 30 female patients diagnosed with a relapsing-remitting (RRMS) form of the disease. When asked what hindered them from exercising, the researchers took note of self-reports of fatigue, pain, and lack of time and motivation. The participants were then given exercise instructions to accomplish at home or in their respective neighborhoods by using a pamphlet that matches their current level of physical activity. The routine featured aerobic, balance, and strength training exercises, outlined in a reader-friendly, step-by-step format.
The researchers conducted follow-up sessions every 3 weeks, and asked the patients questions about their new physical activity habits and any remaining barriers to adopting the routines. At 24 weeks, the researchers also performed a physical assessment of the participants to monitor changes. Plow concluded that the exercise program showed great promise in fostering physical activity and better symptom management in women with RRMS. These new findings can help patients with MS complement their medications with exercise and activity to help slow the progression of the disease.