Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition which affects the function of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), as a result of swelling of the myelin sheath that surrounds the neural pathways, leading to lesions and/or scarring. Damage to these connective tissues can block or impair neural signals within the CNS resulting in impaired physical and mental function. Depending on the severity and location of these lesions, symptoms and presentation can vary drastically between people. Whilst we commonly know that exercise can help in improving physical characteristics such as strength and cardiovascular fitness, and can reduce the risk of falls, exercise can also improve MS related symptoms on a neurological level. Specifically, exercise participation can optimise neural function and brain function through 3 different processes:
Swelling of the brain tissue occurs due to inflammation of myelin sheaths. This swelling around the nerves also creates pressure on nearby healthy nerves, impairing their ability to function normally. Through exercise participation, inflammation can be reduced by increasing blood flow to the brain, allowing nutrients and chemicals to assist in reducing inflammation.
Obligodendrocytes are cells that remyelinate affected nerves. This process creates a thinner myelin sheath around the neural pathway compared to a healthy nerve and therefore the electrical signals pass through the repaired nerve more slowly and less efficiently. However, it does allow the nerve to function at a reduced ability. By participating in exercise, the stimulation of damaged nerves encourages remyelination as the nerve is still needed and worth repairing.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to remodel its neural pathways with the aim of optimising function. This process occurs when the brain is stimulated and works on preventing MS related problems despite ongoing disease activity. Immunosuppression drugs slow the rate of MS disease activity, reducing and delaying the amount of permanent nerve damage. This allows more time for the body’s natural repair process and stimulation of neural plasticity. There is strong evidence that supports the use of movement to stimulate neuroplasticity.
It is important to note that whilst exercise participation improves MS related symptoms, exercise does not stop or reverse the progression of MS.
If you would like to know more about how we can help those with multiple sclerosis, please call our reception on 46 383 777.