Personal Training for Clients with MS

Get the Basics…
  • Multiple sclerosis affects people of all ages.
  • The symptoms of MS vary from patient to patient.
  • Clients with MS often have deconditioned muscles.

While it’s normal to want to stand out from your competition and cater to the fitness needs of the elite, most personal trainers have the skills to adequately train more than the average person in the gym. Occasionally, trainers may encounter a client with physical limitations. As a fitness professional, you should view clients like these as an opportunity for growth.

Clients benefit from your skills and expertise as you continue to learn more about medical conditions you may not know about.

If a trainer is willing to step out of their norm and research a medical condition, it’s possible for them to become an active participant in their client’s quest for continued independence. But the symptoms of a disease such as multiple sclerosis aren’t always easy to recognize.

When symptoms are mild, trainers may not even know that their client has the disease. With so many variations of MS, it’s nearly impossible to predict its progression.

Multiple sclerosis is a neuromuscular disorder that’s caused by the destruction of the myelin. Considered the insulating layer, the myelin surrounds and protects the delicate neurons in the brain and spinal cord. The protective insulation permits electrical signals to transfer between our brains and our bodies.

With compromised myelin, misfiring occurs and messages aren’t sent as quickly as before. Subsequently, scar tissue develops over the destroyed areas, which further interrupts active nerve communication. Symptoms of the disease occur when the brain and spinal cord nerves aren’t able to communicate effectively with other regions of the sufferer’s body.

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Symptoms vary from person to person, so it takes the keen eye of a qualified trainer to help their client improve his or her physical abilities. And with the variability of symptoms, people suffering from MS won’t present same symptomatology. While one person might only experience slight gait disturbances, another person may need assistive devices to walk.

Some of the most common symptoms include the following:

– Fatigue

Severe fatigue can have a negative impact on someone’s ability to function at both work and home. Many times, fatigue presents itself as the most prominent symptoms in an otherwise active person.

– Difficulty Walking

Many patients have gait disturbances due to loss of balance, weakness, and sensory deficits, all of which can be treated with physical therapy, medication, and assistive devices.

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– Numbness and Tingling

Numbness of the body and extremities is often one of the first symptoms experienced by someone diagnosed with MS.

– Visual Disturbances

Blurry vision, painful eye movement, or problems with distinguishing colors can also be an early symptom of MS.

– Weakness

Many patients also suffer from excessive weakness, which is a direct result of deconditioned muscles. With proper rehabilitative strategies and assistive devices, those afflicted with MS can rebuild strength in unused muscles.

Specialized Personal Training

Training someone with MS is very different from training someone who is only looking to lose weight or build muscle. From gentle stretching exercises to knowing when your client needs to rest, trainers need to pay special attention to their needs.

Below are ways a trainer can work to helps clients deal with the activities of daily life more effectively:

– Balance

Clients with MS usually have impaired balance with a loss of sensation and proprioception. By focusing on balance training, you can help to realign the center of gravity. As with any fitness component, balance training must be part of a fitness program for your client to be appropriately challenged. Keep in mind that a body’s balance progresses in a head-to-toe direction and from static to dynamic.

– Flexibility

Muscle spasms are very common for clients with MS, so gentle stretching exercises can go a long way toward reducing the shortening of muscle fibers. Trainers should apply gentle force to specific areas of the client’s body, as this gives the adequate control over the speed, direction, and intensity of the stretch.

The goal of passive stretching is to have your client’s muscle adapt to the lengthened position. In addition, spasticity is usually present in the hip adductors and abductors, so this area will require a considerable amount of attention when training. Clients with MS need positive feedback, especially when they are having a bad day.

Encouraging clients to push themselves outside their comfort zone can do wonders for their self-esteem.

Simply knowing that you’re supporting them will motivate them when they feel like giving up. MS can take an emotional toll on its victims, so it’s important that you continually give gentle words of encouragement. Pay close attention to how your client is reacting during exercises and stretching. If they’re experiencing pain or discomfort, let them know it’s okay to take a rest.

Due to reduced proprioception, clients with MS need to wear comfortable workout gear and supportive shoes when working out. Know that there will be times when your client is struggling to find motivation. Hone in on what they need and encourage them to get in touch with what their body and mind needs. And most importantly, let them know it’s okay to need a helping hand.