Is Life a Form of Physical Therapy for PPMS?

A columnist discovers his tomato plants can help with multiple sclerosis

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by Stephen De Marzo |

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I guess the short answer to the headline’s question is “It depends.”

After my primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) diagnosis in March 2021, when I was 58, I had many questions that could be collected into the five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why. I’ll throw in a how, too.

The doctors tried to be positive and spun an upbeat future, saying that with physical therapy (PT), I’d be able to regain many abilities I’d lost. I’d have to strengthen the muscles I had left to add to my quality of life. “It can be done,” they said. “It will be difficult, but it can be done.”

They also said that PPMS affects everyone differently, so there’s no set program to follow, no bullet points to hit to get some of my abilities back, if they come back at all.

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Today I have great difficulty standing and walking, problems with my left arm, and trouble tolerating high temperatures. My drive to be part of my business and part of my house keeps me moving and exhausted.

So the discussion with the doctors focused on how much PT and for how long.

My physical therapy plan was to have 45-minute sessions twice a week for four weeks. For it to be effective, I had to do it on my own every day, in addition to the sessions. But I found the sessions too easy. I needed to be pushed to know what I was able to do. I had to get ready for spring, when farm work would be therapy enough.

Father Time does not stop, and things have to be done. But if I’m exhausted from the day’s events, where will I find the strength to work out? Some days I’m lucky to make it to the bathroom. It’s one or the other: life or therapy. Pick one thing: make dinner or have PT? I won’t have enough energy and stamina for both. Tough choice.

I own a nursery, which involves tremendous physical labor. I viewed this as physical therapy, as I was lifting, bending, carrying, walking, standing, and pushing. Granted, I wasn’t working at the level I once did, but I was moving. All the things I did with the therapist for 45 minutes I did for two or three hours at work.

This past summer I decided to grow some greenhouse tomatoes, peppers, and basil. Tending this crop was therapy enough. To water the plants, I had to drag a hose in temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Oh, brother!

The greenhouse is covered with plastic film, and as summer gets in full swing, the temperatures get unbearable. There came a point when the cooling system (huge fans) couldn’t handle the temperatures, so some plastic had to be removed. That required me to climb up a ladder 15 feet to release the plastic and show my friends how it must be done. This process put me in recovery for three days.

Then came the harvest: peppers, basil, and 200 pounds of tomatoes, which had to be processed. (Sauce, not gravy!) Standing, cutting, cooking, turning the Foley food mill for a couple of hours: After that, I’m done. Therapy accomplished.

My conclusion is that if you live and push yourself even at minimum speed, you’re doing some form of physical therapy. You’re using all the muscles and nerves needed for daily life. I’m fortunate I have an outlet that doesn’t allow me to sit behind a desk. Thus, I get to “work out” every day. Next up: my winter workout!

multiple sclerosis physical therapy | Multiple Sclerosis News Today | a photo of a greenhouse, with several green plants on the left and right

Tomato plants on Stephen’s New Jersey farm this August. (Photo by Stephen De Marzo)

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


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