It's tempting to avoid exercise when you have MS. You might think that you’ll wind up feeling fatigue, discomfort, and pain. But it's likely just the opposite: Lack of exercise leads to deconditioning that over time reduces your functional abilities and leaves you feeling worse.

Exercising regularly, on the other hand, helps to preserve your mobility and reduce your fatigue. Physical activities may also help improve muscle spasms, balance and coordination.

Work With a Physical Therapist

It's very helpful to work with a physical therapist if you have MS. At MS physical therapy, you learn the safest ways to exercise for your symptoms and condition. Over the first few sessions, the physical therapist gets to know you and your limitations. Then, you receive an individualized physical therapy plan that challenges you, not strains you.

The physical therapist teaches you a variety of stretching and range-of-motion exercises and muscle strengthening techniques. Your therapist also shows you how to use adaptive equipment.

Ease Into Your Workout

Your physical therapist will likely recommend starting slow and working your way up to a faster pace or more repetitions.

To avoid overheating (a common problem for people with MS), you may also get this advice:

  • Choose a cool spot to exercise.
  • Wear breathable clothing and cool cloths on your neck.
  • Have a fan pointed directly at you.
  • Drink plenty of cold water.

Types of Exercise

Your tailored exercise plan may include the following:

Range-of-Motion Exercises

Involuntary muscle spasms (spasticity) are a common issue for multiple sclerosis patients. The legs are the most often affected, and some people also experience the MS hug, when tiny muscles between the ribs tighten up. Stretching exercises can help improve the spasticity: Stretches maintain the length of your muscles, preserving flexibility.

Balance and Coordination Exercises

Doing balance and coordination exercises improves mobility and reduces the risk of falling. Your physical therapist will demonstrate proper form and technique.

Aerobic Exercise

Many people MS can do aerobic exercise, if they are careful to avoid overexertion. Your physical therapist will pinpoint the exercises and pace that is right for you. Swimming, water aerobics, walking and biking are generally well-tolerated.

Muscle-Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening your muscles will help you avoid weakness and poor mobility down the road. It's important to work with your physical therapist to learn proper technique so you avoid injury.

By keeping up with physical therapy and exercise, you’ll feel better and ease your symptoms for a better quality of life.

By: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen


National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Heat and Temperature Sensitivity. Available at: Accessed on June 20, 2011

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. NINDS Multiple Sclerosis Information Page. Available at: Accessed on June 20, 2011

University of California, San Francisco. Living with Multiple Sclerosis. Available at: Accessed on June 20, 2011

University of Maryland Medical Center. Multiple Sclerosis – Lifestyle Changes. Available at: Accessed on June 20, 2011

Yanofsky, C.S. MD. Understanding Multiple Sclerosis. Available at: Accessed on June 10, 2011

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 22 Jul 2011

Last Modified: 29 Jan 2015