Swimming with Multiple Sclerosis

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Swimming is an exercise anyone can do—but its an especially great exercise for individuals with multiple sclerosis. Because multiple sclerosis often affects muscle control, coordination, temperature regulation, and more, many types of exercise can be difficult for MS patients. In the case of swimming, however, the benefits are great—without some of the typical risks. Let’s look more closely.

Why is swimming so good for MS patients?

  • Buoyancy. Because water is buoyant, it offers support and helps you feel lighter. As a result, it can put less strain on your muscles, offer a greater range of motion, and even help relax tight or spastic muscles.
  • Viscosity. Water is also viscous, however, which means it resists your movements. Because you move more slowly in water naturally, you can spend time working on things like balance and coordination, which means it can help MS patients build up muscle strength.
  • Hydrostatic pressure. The deeper you go, the more pressure water provides, which offers unique support in standing activities, meaning it can be a much better environment in which to practice walking for MS patients who may otherwise struggle with balance, coordination, or muscle control.
  • Endurance. Swimming is a fantastic cardiovascular activity, which means it can help MS patients (who often express fatigue as one of their symptoms) build up their endurance, in addition to building balance, flexibility, and strength.
  • Stress relief. Swimming has been repeatedly shown to be a great stress reliever, meaning it can help you relax. MS patients often struggle with the ways in which their disease may limit them, especially as they may otherwise look healthy. Swimming can help them manage this and other stressors in their lives.
  • Adaptability. Swimming is incredibly adaptable! By mixing up strokes, pulling, kicking, adding water aerobics, and more, the range of ways you can choose to swim or otherwise exercise in the pool is nearly limitless, meaning that if one routine isn’t working for you, you can always try another.
  • Social time. Additionally, pool workouts can offer MS patients much needed social time, and even offer an opportunity to connect with other MS patients, who can become an important part of their support network. Don’t underestimate how important this social network can be, as many researchers say an effective support network is one of the keys to managing MS treatment.
  • Temperature regulation. Additionally, swimming is one of the only exercises that won’t heat you up, which is great for MS patients, who can struggle with heat and temperature regulation. Pools kept in the low 80s seems to work best for MS patients, though patients with spasticity issues may need slightly warmer water, as too low a temperature can actually increase their symptoms and lower mobility. Therapy pools, however, are likely too warm for most patients to exercise in, so MS patients may need to try several different pools to find the temperature that works best for them. (Pools for competitive swimmers, for instance, are usually kept at cooler temperatures, and may be too cold for most MS patients.)
  • Easy to learn. Even better, for MS patients who may not know how to swim already, it’s easy to learn. We recommend starting with a hydrotherapy class, where you can learn with someone who knows your needs as an MS patient, but if you choose to learn without a class, make sure you have someone with you that you trust and that knows you and your MS.

Lastly, you don’t have to swim. Swimming isn’t for every MS patients. For those patients who find swimming can help them, however, the benefits are far more numerous even than what we list here!

And if you feel tentative about the water? That’s okay! You can start slow, or even incorporate flotation devices as needed to help relieve anxiety.

Even with limited mobility, pool exercises are a great place to get a workout in. If you ask around, you can probably even find a pool or two that offers mobility assistance, if you have trouble getting in and out of the water.

In more rural areas where fewer pools may be available to you, consider asking local motels that may have pools if you can use theirs. The worst they can say is no, after all, and in our experience, many business owners are willing to work with you to find an arrangement that works for both of you.

At the very least, all we ask is that you try swimming. Even if you think it’s probably not for you, you may be surprised—and if you do find it works for you, you may be even more surprised at just how beneficial it can be!

Multiple Sclerosis – An infographic by MS

Guest post by Rebecca Evans / GeriatricNursing.org

Photo by popofatticus

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About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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