Multiple Sclerosis Research Unit
Physiotherapy and MS

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The symptoms associated with MS vary between one person and another, both in the areas of the body affected and the degree of severity. The aim of physiotherapy is to improve the individual’s functional abilities in order to maximise their independence and to reduce disability.

Thumnail link to image of physiotherapy exerciseHow can physiotherapy work?

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Physiotherapy can help in the following ways

General advice on a variety of subjects such as posture, how to avoid back problems, transfers e.g. how best to transfer in and out of a car.

Specific exercises. These are exercises that are designed to help a particular problem. Some examples are:-

  • exercises to improve balance reactions for the person whose balance is affected.
  • exercises to help recover function following a relapse.
  • exercise to maintain mobility where there is muscle weakness.
  • exercise to reduce low back pain in conjunction with advice on back care.

Hydrotherapy- exercise in water. Water is an excellent medium in which to exercise as the water helps to counter the weight of the body making movement and exercise easier.

Prevention. Physiotherapy may be useful in preventing problems occurring. For example where there is muscle weakness and reduced movement it is important to stretch the relevant muscles to prevent them from shortening as this would gradually result in joint stiffness leading to pain and immobility. There are exercises that a person can do for themselves or someone can do for them to stretch the affected muscles. Another example of prevention is improving posture to help reduce the occurrence of back problems and stiffness.
Walking aids. The provision of walking aids e.g. walking stick, is an important area and there are various considerations such as which aid is most appropriate and is the aid the correct height for the individual. The physiotherapist would demonstrate how the aid should be used correctly and safely.

Advice to family and carers. The sort of advice that may be helpful is how best to help people move/ transfer (e.g. around the house, in and out of the car), how to look after their own back to avoid injury, demonstration of the exercises and explanation of how they are helpful.

Thumnail link to image of physiotherapy  exerciseWhat does the physiotherapist do?

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The first step in any physiotherapy treatment is assessment. The physiotherapist would be looking at such symptoms as muscle weakness, changes in sensation, balance problems etc. and would then take into consideration other factors such as lifestyle, fatigue, and personal needs in order to decide what physiotherapy treatment might be most appropriate and helpful.

Advice and Exercise

The physiotherapist would then give advice and suggest appropriate exercise for the individual. The exercises would be practised during the physiotherapy session and usually accompanied by suitable exercises that may be practised at home.


The physiotherapist would continue to see the person over a period of time to assess progress and alter treatment as required. They would also be able to refer the person to other departments as necessary. e.g. Occupational Therapy, Specialist Nurse, Orthotic Department.

How do you arrange physiotherapy?
Where can you receive physiotherapy?

  1. Out-patient Physiotherapy department
  2. Community Physiotherapy service
  3. Whilst in hospital as an in-patient
  4. MS Therapy centre
  5. Private Physiotherapy practice

Nos 1-3, Via GP for the hospital and community services

Nos 4-5, By self-referral for MS Therapy centres and private practices.

The physiotherapy services provided by the NHS vary from area to area as do the other services. The therapy centres are at various sites around the country. Further information about the centres may be obtained from the Who Can Help’ leaflet available from this unit. Some hospitals also have rehabilitation centres. The physiotherapy department at your local hospital would be able to advise you of facilities in your area. If you seek therapy from a private practitioner ensure that they are a Chartered Physiotherapist as are all NHS physiotherapists and that they are experienced in the treatment of neurological conditions.

This is an outline of physiotherapy and how it can help people with MS. The information and examples given may not be suitable for everyone and you should consult a physiotherapist for specific advice and treatment.