The cause is unknown. The diagnosis can be unreliable. And the symptoms are unpredictable. There is a lot we still do not know about multiple sclerosis, commonly referred to as MS. But, breakthroughs in research and technology have shed light on this rather mysterious disease and led to advancements in treatment procedures to combat against MS relapses and slow down the progression of this incurable disease.
What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
MS is a long-lasting and potentially disabling disease affecting the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The immune system becomes inflamed, damaging the protective sheath (myelin) that covers the nerve fibers and causes communication issues between the brain and the rest of the body. Myelin is destroyed and replaced by scars of sclerotic patches of tissue, which can appear in multiple places – hence why the disease is called multiple sclerosis. Correspondingly, MS can cause a deterioration of the nerves or even worse, permanent damage.
An estimated one million people over the age of 18 are living with MS in the United States. The origin has yet to be identified, as many factors, such as genetic susceptibility, abnormalities in the immune system and environmental conditions can increase the risk of developing the disease. These include: age, gender (women are more than two to three times as likely to have MS than men), family medical history, climate, Vitamin D, certain autoimmune diseases and smoking all contribute to the onset of MS.
What are the symptoms of MS?
Signs of MS will vary greatly from person to person while symptoms of the disease will fluctuate over time for an individual. Without myelin to ensure the nerve fibers are insulated and protected, messages can be altered or stopped completely within the central nervous system. Damage to this area may produce a variety of neurological problems, including visual disturbances, problems focusing and remembering, muscle weakness, spasticity, numbness and tingling and trouble with balance and coordination among other conditions caused by MS.
Difficulty in walking, especially foot drop, is the most common mobility limitation among people with MS. With less muscle endurance, specific gait abnormalities can emerge, putting one at risk for falls and fall-related injuries. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), more than 50 percent of people with MS experience a fall in a three to six-month period with 30 percent of those individuals reporting multiple falls. This worsens mobility and reduces independence, and further increases complications of MS as unforeseen time and treatment must be allocated to recover from broken bones or strained muscles.
Treating Multiple Sclerosis
At this present moment, there is no cure for MS. However, research, new discoveries and potential treatments have paved the way to helping people live a healthier life while battling the disease. Physical therapy and rehabilitation along with FDA-approved medications can slow the progression of the disease, lower relapse rates and ensure MS symptoms are manageable.
Another treatment option, designed to assist with balance and muscle weakness, is a mobility device, such as a knee and/or ankle foot orthosis to enhance one’s ability to walk safely and comfortably.
Foot drop is one of the most common complaints when it comes to walking for people with MS. This type of gait abnormality is caused by poor nerve conduction to the muscles used to flex the ankle. An individual with foot drop finds it difficult to lift the front part of their foot, causing one or both feet to drag while walking. This prevents a natural heel-to-toe motion and the ability to manage stairs, curbs and uneven surfaces becomes harder to achieve.
Making Strides Against MS with Orthotic Devices
An orthosis is a wearable device that demonstrates proper alignment and controls motion to correct a deformity or weakness in either the upper or lower extremities exhibited from an injury or condition. It spans the length of the affected region of the body and supports the muscles, stabilizes the joints and assists with safe ambulation. Orthoses can be custom-made or custom-fit and designed to wrap or cradle the affected joints or areas of the body they are intended to help. This is especially important for MS patients impacted by lower extremity issues, such as foot drop or knee instability.
Constructed of lightweight, medical-grade plastic materials, (Anatomical Concepts, Inc. refrains from utilizing PVC-based plastics, Kydex® or Latex in any of their products), an orthosis can be very effective at reciprocating the energy exerted with each step and push the feet and toes upward into the correct position with each stride for a foot drop. There are a variety of orthoses available from ankle foot orthoses, knee and full knee ankle foot orthoses, along with elbow orthoses, each serving a unique purpose in treating deformities, and therefore help avoid falls and trips.
With knee instability, in which the knee either buckles and gives way, or hyperextends, a knee orthosis can provide the necessary support to the knee and allow the joints to work in harmony with the ankle and foot, helping people move about more easily. This greatly improves an individuals’ gait while managing fatigue, weakness and balance problems.
Types of Knee Orthoses
KMO™ (Knee Management Orthosis) Knee Orthosis features a unique, single posterior joint that delivers a more accurate alternative for static progressive positioning of the knee. It has the ability to effectively position the normal anatomical alignment of the patient’s knee joint, which can easily be set into position without the need to heat or contour the upright in order to accommodate knee contracture issues.
KMO™ V-V (Knee Management Orthosis with Varus/Valgus adjustment) is an exclusive, single posterior joint that is cost-effective, patient-friendly and a more accurate alternative for static progressive positioning of the knee.
PENTAGON® Knee Orthosis is an alternative to the traditional bulky double upright hinged knee orthoses configurations. This system design allows for a simplified fitting of the knee orthosis with five joint adjustment capabilities in one that helps address a variety of rehabilitative needs for sagittal plane stabilization.