Last month in Nashville physical therapist Jennifer Meyer from Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center inspired me as she shared the benefits in physical therapy for multiple sclerosis as well as exciting technology for the future. I am happy to share an interview I had with her following the conference.
Can you give us a little background about what your job generally entails?
“I am a neurologic physical therapist, so my job consists of working with patients with a variety of neurologic diagnoses (MS, stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, etc.) My job as a physical therapist is to help people regain their physical abilities to participate in the activities they need and want to do, whether that be going to work, taking care of their family, or running half marathons. I often focus on walking, balance, and falls prevention with my patients but also work on strength training, stretching, aerobic exercise, and anything else that may be impacting their independence. I also help determine if patients need any assistive devices (like a cane or walker) or adaptive equipment (like an ankle brace.) Ultimately, my goal is to help patients get around safely and independently so they can do all the things they want to do!”
Why do you think movement is important especially for those with MS?
“Movement is one of the cornerstones of our lives- people move to varying degrees but everyone has to move in order to get in and out of bed, to go to and from the bathroom, or to go to the kitchen to make food. We often take movement for granted because it isn’t difficult to do. But as we get older, movement becomes harder for all of us. People living with MS often experience difficulties with movement earlier and to a greater extent. Making movement a part of our daily routines helps to improve our ability to get around and minimize the potential decline in function that people with MS may experience as their disease progresses.”
Have you seen a lot of progress in your multiple sclerosis patients?
“I do see a lot of progress in my MS patients. Sometimes patients return to their baseline level of function (for example, their strength returns or their endurance goes back to normal.) Other times, patients improve because I teach them compensations and new movements patterns to improve their ability to get around. Fatigue management, energy conservation, and environmental adaptations also tend to be components of my therapy plan. These treatments help my patients with MS improve their ability to walk, reduce their frequency of falls, or make it easier for them to get around safely.”
I love the concept of pre-rehab and how you explained it as similar to bi-annual dentist appointments. Can you explain how this preventive measure is effective?
“The idea behind preventative physical therapy is to have patients with MS see a physical therapist once or twice a year to perform an evaluation and movement analysis. By doing this, physical therapists may be able to identify subtle changes in strength, range of motion, walking speed, or balance that people living with MS haven’t noticed. If we can identify areas that may challenge people living with MS before they become a problem, we may be able to intervene and prevent or delay these challenge areas from impacting their abilities to get around safely.”
The future of physically therapy is exciting with new equipment such as the exoskeleton, recently approved by the FDA, and virtual goggles. Can you give us a little more details about these devices?
“Ultimately, all the new equipment that is coming out aims to improve function for people living with MS and other neurologic diagnoses. The exoskeleton works by using motors and hydraulics to allow limb movement in people who are unable to walk. It doesn’t work for all people who are unable to walk but it certainly has promising implications for the future of neuro rehab. Virtual reality goggles may help people who have specific problems with dizziness and imbalance, or it may be used in the future to simulate real-life situations that people face that we can’t normally recreate in the clinic.”
Anything else you would like to share about PT and MS?
“There is a lot of information for people living with MS regarding exercise, energy conservation, fatigue management, and optimizing function to help you live your best life! If you have any questions about any of these topics, I encourage you to find a physical therapist who knows how to work with patients with MS. Not all physical therapists are trained on the subtleties of MS, so be sure you find someone who can give you the resources you need. You can contact an MS Navigator through the National MS Society or to find out more information if you aren’t sure where to find a neuro physical therapist.”
Thank you very much, Jennifer. I agree to keep moving is vital for everyone, especially those with MS.
Please watch and share our MS Awareness video.