By Lisa Rapaport/Reuters Health
People with multiple sclerosis who do balance and eye movement exercises may feel steadier on their feet and experience less fatigue and dizziness, a small trial suggests.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a rare, disabling autoimmune disease that damages the central nervous system. It can lead to fatigue, pain, vision loss and impaired co-ordination and motor skills.
For the current study, researchers focused on 88 adults with MS who were able to walk 100 meters assisted with a cane if necessary. Half of them were randomly selected to participate in a supervised exercise programme, while the rest were put on a waiting list.
At the start of the study, researchers gave all of the participants computer-based balance tests. None of the participants approached scores of 90 out of 100 that are typical for healthy adults without balance issues.
After six weeks, however, average scores rose more for the exercise group. While both groups started with scores around 62-63, those in the exercise group rose to an average of 73, compared with an increase to 66 in the other group.
“It is possible that disability due to MS can be improved or the accumulation of disability lessened by participation in exercise such as (this) programme; however, additional research in this area is needed,” said lead study author Jeffrey Hebert of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.
“The . . . programme is most generalisable to ambulatory patients with MS who have some limitations related to balance and fatigue,” Hebert said by e-mail.
In the exercise group, people completed supervised exercises twice a week and received instructions to exercise daily at home for the first six weeks. Then, for the next eight weeks, they got one supervised workout a week plus daily exercises to do at home.
Exercises included balancing on different surfaces and while walking, both with and without head movements and eyes open and closed, as well as eye movement exercises to help improve visual stability.
For the exercise group, the benefits persisted even when they cut back to supervised workouts just once a week. By the end of the study, they had average balance test scores of 75, compared with 65 in the control group.
The people who did the exercises also saw greater improvements in their fatigue and dizziness test scores than the other group.
In addition, researchers found that patients in the exercise group who had lesions in brain regions that are important to balance and eye movement control had greater improvements in balance than people without these lesions.
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