Symptom Series: Walking difficulties

Find out how MS may affect the way you walk
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects everyone differently. No two people have the exact same symptoms or experiences with the disease. Since MS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, you may have a wide range of symptoms. Some are visible and can be seen by others. Others are invisible and are only seen or felt by the person with MS.

Through our Symptom Series , we’ll provide some information and tips about different symptoms to discuss with your healthcare team. Remember, your healthcare team should be your primary source for information or any questions.

Gait means the way a person walks. Many people living with MS find that their gait is affected by the condition. Gait may be impaired by damage to nerve cells in the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that helps control movements and muscle tone. A person’s walking ability can be affected by other MS symptoms, including muscle tightness, numbness in the feet, loss of balance and coordination, foot drop, vision impairments, fatigue, or weakness. A steady gait is not only important for getting from point A to point B—it can also be important for safety.

Always let your healthcare team know if your MS symptoms are affecting the way you walk. They can assess your walking ability and possibly help prevent injuries that may be caused by your level of balance and coordination.

Here are some tips that may help with gait:

Exercise regularly

Various muscles contribute to a steady gait, so there are many exercises you might consider. First, ask your healthcare team about training that may build muscle strength. Also ask about flexibility exercises, such as yoga and Pilates. These exercises may help increase the range of motion of your joints, which affects your ability to extend or rotate when walking. Everyone’s ability level is different, so consider working with a physical or occupational therapist to help guide you in developing a routine that best matches your personal abilities and interests. Remember to always talk to your healthcare team before starting any new routines.

Consider assistive devices

Assistive devices (eg, canes, walkers, crutches, braces) may help you walk steadily based on your level of balance. However, using the wrong device or adjusting a device incorrectly may put extra strain on your joints and affect your posture. Be sure to ask your healthcare team, or physical therapist if you see one, about which device may be best for you.

Make home improvements

Look at your surroundings and see where you may be able to install railings for additional support. Railings by the stairs or in the hallways may help guide you and keep your balance. Also, consider switching to carpeted floors that are securely tacked to floorboards. Carpeting may provide a better grip for walking than wooden or tiled floors. Try making home improvements one room at a time. Discover some ways to modify your kitchen , bathroom , or bedroom to help you with your balance and coordination.

Wear the right footwear

Shoes are not just a fashion accessory. They could play an essential role in helping you walk safely. While it’s important to wear shoes that are fitted, stable, and comfortable, that doesn’t mean you can’t still be stylish. Opt for shoes that are light and have a low heel if you’re having difficulty with balance or walking, such as flats or loafers. If you’re still looking for that extra height, consider swapping high heels for wedges, which may be more stable and supportive. You may also want to avoid shoes that are not securely strapped to your feet, such as sandals or flip-flops. These types of shoes can slip off or cause you to drag your feet. If you’re wearing socks in the house, try non-slip socks that have traction grips on the bottom to prevent slipping.

Keep your space clear of obstacles

Obstacles around your home or workplace can make it harder to keep your balance while walking. They can also increase your risk of falls. Keep walkways clear of objects, wires, or anything that may cause you to trip. Make sure that any loose rugs in your house have non-slip backing or are tacked to the floor to help avoid slipping or tripping on folded edges.

Walking with a stable gait may be challenging, especially when other MS symptoms may affect balance and coordination. However, these tips may help.

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