There are many symptoms associated with MS, but that doesn’t mean you will experience all of them. You may only have a few symptoms that affect you, you may find that they come and go, that you only experience them during a relapse or that their severity changes over time.
Physical symptoms can make it difficult for you to get around, to carry out your day-to-day activities and over time can impact your independence. Here we’ll take a look at the more common physical symptoms of MS and how they may be managed day-to-day. If you want to learn more about the long-term treatment of MS, head to our section on disease modifying treatments (DMTs).
Standing upright and walking is a pretty complicated thing for your body to achieve and there are a number of different functions involved. There are a few MS symptoms that can make it difficult to get around, such as problems with balance, dizziness, muscle weakness, spasms and stiffness.
A number of symptoms can affect balance, increasing your risk of falling such as muscle stiffness, tremors and pain, and we talk about each of these more in the next sections. Balance problems can cause distress, loss of confidence but can also result in injury, pain and loss of independence.
Spasms and stiffness
Stiffness can make your muscles feel more rigid and difficult to move. How muscle stiffness impacts your abilities to carry out certain tasks depends on the muscles affected. You may find it difficult to carry out smaller, delicate movements or you may have trouble with larger ones such as walking.
Muscles can also jerk in an uncontrolled way, known as a spasm. This can happen repeatedly and sometimes causes pain. This can also happen at night making it difficult for you to get your full 8 hours.
Sometimes people experience an uncontrolled trembling or shaking movement, it can be repetitive but it can also be irregular and unpredictable. They can be small movements or larger ones and they can make carrying out daily tasks extremely challenging. Most people living with MS who have tremors find that they come on when they want to do something. For example, when you reach out to pick up something and it can get worse the closer you get to the object.
People living with MS may experience muscle weakness (a lack of strength) in one or both of their legs. MS can make it difficult to move your muscles, making them feel weak. Muscle weakness in your legs can make it difficult to walk and falls more likely. You may also experience weakness in other muscles like those that control your bowels.
- Managing motor and mobility problems
Problems with mobility may be managed with different approaches and each should be adjusted to each person’s individual needs and problems. It’s best to talk to your doctor or MS nurse about this before you try any therapies.
Your doctor or MS nurse may try different therapies such as:
- Physiotherapy – a treatment using physical methods such as massage, heat treatment and exercise
- Occupational therapy – using certain activities to help people to recover
- Cryotherapy - treatment using cold temperatures
There are a range of devices that can help to improve your mobility problems and make it easier to get around, from neck braces, to walking sticks and even bionic legs (sometimes called exoskeletons). Talk to your doctor or MS nurse about the options they think could help you.
Some symptoms can be managed with a number of treatments and physiotherapy. For example, spasticity, or stiffness in the limbs and the discomfort this can cause.
- Eyesight in MS
Experiencing problems with your eyesight can be a frightening experience and problems with vision are relatively common in people living with MS. MS can cause something called optic neuritis, which occurs when the optic nerve becomes inflamed. MS can also affect your eyes by causing problems with the movement of the eye.
Optic neuritis can cause blurred vision and in some cases complete loss of sight. Often only one eye is affected but it can affect both. Vision tends to worsen over a few days to a week, but for some it can be much quicker. If you have optic neuritis you may experience:
- Blurring or a blind spot in the centre of your vision
- Colours appearing darker or washed out
- Light flashes when you move your eyes
- Pain, especially when you move your eyes
Eye movement problems tend to mean your eyes might not move smoothly or that your eyes are out of alignment. This can lead to double vision, which can also mean problems such as nausea and vertigo as well as coordination or other issues with balance.
- Managing vision problems
Optic neuritis and problems with eye movement are caused by inflammation and often go away when the inflammation subsides, so you may not need treatment. If your symptoms are particularly severe, your doctor or MS nurse may prescribe a course of steroids, which can help to speed up your recovery.
If you are struggling with double vision there are ways you can reduce its impact such as wearing a patch over one eye or wearing glasses which are fitted with lenses that realign the two images. There are also treatments available that your doctor or MS nurse may prescribe that can help if you experience involuntary eye movements.
- Useful links