Rebounding From an MS Relapse

Couple communication about MS relapses

2 Dec 2015 | ~3:16 Engagement Time


Gail Hartley , MSN, NP, MSCN & Susan Kushner , Physical Therapist

An MS relapse may occur unpredictably, and sometimes it can be hard to tell whether you are having one. A relapse is defined as new or worsening MS symptoms that last for more than 24 hours and are not associated with any other illness or infection. It is important to report new symptoms to your healthcare provider so that the appropriate treatment can be initiated. Depending on the severity, not every MS relapse requires treatment with steroids, but treating early provides a better chance for quick recovery. 

Just like the disease itself, MS relapses and recovery can be highly variable. You may have a mild exacerbation or one that may require numerous changes for you. No matter the extent of relapse, it is possible for you to maintain an exercise program during and after recovery. 

What Expect During an MS Relapse

It is important to listen to your body and your healthcare team during a relapse. You may need to cut way back on activity or completely rest during a relapse. The disease may cause temporary setbacks or some permanent changes in your body, requiring a number of modifications to your lifestyle, work, and home environment. If hospitalized, you may or may not be active during this time period. 

It is important that your healthcare team members monitor your progress and adapt your former program accordingly. Increased symptoms from a urinary tract infection may subside, and your current program can be resumed. If symptoms occur that are causing more functional changes, a re-evaluation may be needed currently and then again as you recover. 

Potential Changes to Your MS Treatment Program 

Here are some of the potential changes to your multiple sclerosis treatment program:

  • Symptoms such as an increase in spasticity may change the way you exercise.
  • Muscle weakness may affect your balance or strength, thereby causing the need for changes in your weight-lifting program.
  • Decreased sensations in your feet may cause you to change the venue from walking outside in the woods to walking on a track or a treadmill.
  • The need for a foot or ankle brace may arise.
  • You may need to rely on a walker versus a cane, a wheelchair versus a walker.
  • Energy conservation may be a goal of your OT intervention.

Any or all of these changes may be temporary or permanent. If the return to your former baseline is delayed, a new “norm” may need to be established and reworked with your PT and OT for a revised exercise program. It must be something attainable and feasible to be successful. These parameters should be established with your team and modified as needed. Do not forget that you want to enjoy what you are doing!!! Staying healthy, active, strong, and functional should be something to look forward to every (or most) days! This will certainly help you be successful, no matter what changes are made.