In 2009, the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation established World MS Day to raise awareness, encourage the world to share stories, have conversations, and encourage those affected by multiple sclerosis. In 2021, that day of reflection was May 30.
This blog will highlight information about multiple sclerosis, common symptoms, and some non-invasive treatment options.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is considered one of the most widespread disabling neurological conditions of young adults worldwide. While MS can be developed at any age, most people receive diagnoses between ages 20 and 50.
The disease affects the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. The immune system becomes inflamed, causing damage to the protective sheath, which can stop the brain from communicating with the rest of the body. The damaged myelin is replaced by scars of sclerotic patches of tissue, which can appear in multiple places – the reason the disease is called multiple sclerosis.
At least 1 million people over 18 are living with MS in the United States. The cause is difficult to pinpoint due to various factors – like genetic susceptibility, abnormalities in the immune system, and environmental conditions. These can all increase the risk of developing the condition.
Other risk factors include age, gender (women are more than 2-3 times more likely to have MS), family medical history, climate, Vitamin D levels, and certain autoimmune disorders.
Symptoms of MS
There are three common symptoms associated with MS, all of which can be treated with a combination of orthotic bracing and physical therapy. Let's examine these symptoms and how an orthosis can provide improved stability:
- Foot Drop: Patients with foot drop, also called drop foot, is gait abnormality caused by poor nerve communication to the muscles used to flex the ankle. Patients notice that their toes point downward as they swing their foot from one step through another. This prevents a natural heel-to-toe stepping motion and could cause gait disruption and balance issues when maneuvering stairs, curbs, and uneven surfaces.
Foot drop affects a person’s ability to walk and for those with more severe cases, muscle spasticity in the foot can cause it to point downward all the time, which may make it difficult even to stand.
- Knee Instability: Knee instability is another common symptom for those with MS. This is apparent when the knee buckles or hyperextends.. This issue can also cause gait and mobility challenges for the patient.
- Hip Flexor Muscle Weakness: Patients with more advanced cases of MS may have hip flexor muscle weakness that makes it hard to swing or extend their legs as they walk.
Orthotic Treatment Options for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
While symptoms are unpredictable, there have been some key research findings, technology advancements, and treatment breakthroughs to help manage the disease.
Physical therapy, rehabilitation, and medications can slow the intensity of the disease, lower relapse rates, and keep MS symptoms manageable.
Another viable treatment option that can assist with imbalance and muscle weakness is the use of an orthotic brace like a knee and or ankle-foot orthosis. This device can help patients walk more safely and comfortably.
An orthosis is a device worn by the patient that improves alignment and controls motion to manage a condition, injury or weakness in either the upper or lower extremities. The orthosis covers the affected area of the body and supports the muscles, stabilizes the joints, and assists with safe movement.
Orthoses can be custom-made or custom-fit and are designed to support the affected joints or areas of the body, which is especially key for MS patients impacted by lower extremity issues like foot drop or knee instability.
Individuals with MS commonly use an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO), a brace that covers the foot and ankle area to treat foot drop. AFOs can be an off-the-shelf product or may be completely custom-made for a patient, depending on the clinical need.
If an MS patient is experiencing knee pain or instability, a knee orthosis can support the joints and allow them to work effectively with the ankle and foot to help people move about more easily.
This significantly improves the patient's gait while decreasing fatigue, weakness, and challenges with mobility. MS is a complicated disease. The team at Anatomical Concepts is doing its part to spread awareness of the disease and treatment options available. For more information, visit the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation website at msif.org.