Stretching for People With Multiple Sclerosis

A group of women outside stretching on yoga mats

2 Dec 2015 | ~2:00 Engagement Time


Roz Kalb , Psychologist

Benefits of Stretching

Stretching has many benefits for all people. It is an activity in which we can all participate in to one degree or another.

Some of the benefits of stretching include: 

  • Reduction in muscle tension/promotion of relaxation 
  • Prevention of muscle strains 
  • Increase in range of motion at specific joints/increase flexibility 
  • Development of body awareness 
  • Promotion of circulation 
  • Improvement in posture secondary to muscle tightness 
  • Reduction in pain due to muscle or tendon tightness 

Stretching to Help MS Spasticity

Stretching can be even more important for people with MS who experience symptoms of spasticity or increased muscle tone. 
The specific benefits may include: 

  • Decreased muscle tightness 
  • Decreased pain caused by muscle spasms or poor posture 
  • Prevention of contractures due to spasticity 
  • Improved posture for sitting and walking 
  • Improved mobility 

Stretching for people with MS, who experience spasticity, may sometimes be sufficient in reducing the muscle tension and managing spasticity. However, many times stretching in combination with medications is the most effective means of managing spasticity.  

Try This Calf Stretch for Foot Drop

Calf stretch being demonstrated in a bathroom

Safe Stretching

Stretching can generally be accomplished without any equipment. However, certain situations require use of equipment or assistance from a partner. Equipment sometimes used includes a towel or belt to assist with the stretching. Proper posture during stretching is important in order to gain the maximum benefit.  

Stretching is separated into two general categories, Ballistic and Static. Ballistic stretching is not recommended because it includes bouncing which can cause injury. Static stretching is recommended and includes performing the stretch in a relaxed, sustained manner.  

Each stretch should be held in a position where a comfortable, pulling sensation is felt, but not pain. Holding the stretch for 20-60 seconds is recommended. When stretching, it is important to maintain a regular breathing pattern. DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH!

Stretching exercises are usually recommended on a daily basis, but it may be appropriate to stretch more frequently if spasticity or “tightness” is a specific problem. 

How to be Successful in Your Stretching Journey

Some tips for success in your stretching program include: 

  • Take advantage of “peak medication effect” if taking anti-spasticity medications (consult your physician for this information) 
  • Perform stretching in a quiet, comfortable setting 
  • Consult a physical therapist, occupational therapist, or exercise physiologist with training in neurological conditions to help you identify the appropriate stretching exercises based on your needs. 

In addition, they can provide you with appropriate training on body position and partner stretching programs. There are many ways to participate in a stretching program and many ways to stretch the same muscle. Therefore, if you have difficulty stretching in one way, there are other ways you can stretch the same muscle or muscle group.

With your physical therapist, occupational therapist or exercise specialist you can determine the most appropriate stretching program for you and do what you CAN DO! Other, online resources that can help you are MS Moves with MandyThe National MS Society and Stretching, Inc. 

Find Stretching Routines and More With MS Moves

Led by Physical Therapist and MS Specialist Mandy Rohrig, MS Moves is an exercise program designed with you in mind. Join us to focus on your fitness and function to help you reach your best abilities in day-to-day life.

Sign Up for MS Moves
Physical therapist demonstrating a seated stretch