Multiple Sclerosis, or MS as it is more commonly known, is something that affects over 100,000 people in the UK according to the MS Society website. Strangely, MS affects almost 3 times as many women as it does men, and the reason for this is largely unknown. Like so many other conditions and disorders, the symptoms of MS can vary from person to person, and they can also change significantly across a period of time. What isn’t so common however, is that an MS sufferer can begin to experience symptoms long before a diagnosis would be sought. So what precisely is MS?
In the proverbial nutshell, MS is a condition that affects the brain, the Spinal Cord, and the Central Nervous System (CNS). The nerve fibres within the Central Nervous System are protected with a coating called myelin, and this shields the nerves. In someone with MS however, the immune system begins to attack the myelin, mistaking it for a ‘foreign body’ that it needs to fight, as it would with any other disease or illness. This then leaves the nerve fibres unprotected, and often results in lesions that slow down information as it passes through the CNS, and at it’s worst, causes these messages to be stopped completely, thus resulting in the disability or lack of mobility, so often associated with MS. Put in a completely lay-persons terms, if you cut a piece of electrical cable, you will see several wires, all covered with a protective plastic coating – think of this as myelin. Whilst this coating is intact, the electricity flows though the cables safely and without interruption. Cut through these protective inner cables however, and you will create electrical shorts, and at the worst, a complete failure in the power reaching whatever it is you’re trying to use, thus disabling the piece of equipment.
It is impossible to provide a list of symptoms, as this would very much depend upon which part of the CNS is damaged, and as this serves the entire body, it would then be specific to the individual concerned. The symptoms can range from fatigue, to dizziness, to pain, emotional or mental issues, and through to impact upon mobility and speech for example. Symptoms can also change very quickly, even during a single day, someone can relapse or conversely can enter into periods of remission, where the symptoms ease, or change.
A great deal of research is being undertaken to find causes and cures for MS, but this is a lengthy and expensive process, and it is unlikely that there will be any significant breakthrough imminently. It is therefore important, for people diagnosed with MS, which incidentally usually requires an MRI or a Lumbar Puncture, to manage their symptoms in order to minimise pain, and to maximise mobility, particularly through the earlier phases of the condition.
This is where your Orthotist can help. As with so many other issues where mobility is impaired, or where pain resulting from mobility is increased, the Orthotist can conduct a thorough biomechanical assessment, and from this, prescribe the most appropriate course of action. It is important to note at this stage, that this ISN’T just about the feet or insoles! Whilst this may indeed be relevant for some, it’s not going to make much difference if the pain manifests itself in the upper limbs; the arms or shoulders for example. BUT, your Orthotist may still be able to assist in reducing your pain and increasing your range of movement, whilst preventing further damage and maximising stability.
So, if you have been diagnosed with MS, or are suffering symptoms in the stages pre-diagnosis, then it is time to make an appointment to see your Orthotist, as whilst they can’t prevent the onset, ‘treat or cure’ MS, they can assist you with managing your life around the condition.