by Sharon Malinowski, occupational therapist, and Jenny Maurer, speech and language pathologist
If you’re watching this season of Dancing with the Stars, you’ll be seeing Jack Osbourne dancing the rumba or Paso doble. Jack went public with his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) last year, which left many fans wondering how he will be able to participate in such a physically demanding show while coping with his condition. In actuality, it has been proven that concentrated rehabilitation and physical activity can promote increased and sustained function in MS patients.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system and is an unpredictable condition that can be relatively benign or entirely disabling. Symptom experiences are the result of communication between the brain and other parts of the body becoming disrupted due to multiple areas of inflammation and scarring (sclerosis) in the central nervous system.
The symptoms of MS are erratic meaning they can be mild or severe, long duration or short and appear in various combinations depending on the area of the nervous system affected. It is also common to have an attack followed by a period of recovery, also known as exacerbations and remissions, which can sometimes make MS a very unpredictable condition to live with. An exacerbation of MS can include any number of symptoms and side effects including:
- loss of vision
- difficulty walking
- muscle weakness in the arms and legs
- difficulty with coordination, walking, standing
Although there is no cure for MS yet, there are numerous strategies to modify the disease course, treat exacerbations, manage symptoms and improve function and mobility. Most often, a rehabilitation program for people with MS is designed to meet the needs of the individual patient based on the specific symptoms experienced. The goal of MS rehabilitation is to help the patient return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall physical, emotional and social quality of life.
Occupational and physical therapy are vital components for individuals with MS over the course of their lifespan to improve their quality of life.
Occupational therapy – helps assist people with learning how to use equipment for basic activities of daily living, energy conservation techniques to pace their day and recommending home and work modifications to allow for independence.
Physical therapy – assists the individual with custom exercise plans for muscle imbalance, weakness, fatigue, pain, frequent falls and walking deficits.
Speech therapy – Individuals with MS can also experience swallowing difficulties and/or cognitive deficits, which may worsen when tired. Patients with MS benefit from therapy strategies that focus on treating symptoms and rehab to increase function through a personalized home program. Dysarthria and swallowing techniques include energy conservation and loudness regulation, appropriate speaking rate and breathing patterns, changes in diet and supervision during meals.