Physiotherapy for MS

Physiotherapy helps to maintain or restore function and movement and maximise your potential. It uses physical approaches to promote, maintain and restore physical, psychological and social wellbeing due to injury, illness, disability or ageing. It can also help reduce the risk of further illness or injury.

Physiotherapy's value in multiple sclerosis is now widely recognised. It is seen as especially helpful in promoting activity and exercise for people with MS to help you resume, or maintain, an active and independent life. It can be valuable for many MS symptoms and is particularly useful for managing stiffness, balance, spasticity and spasms. Physiotherapy involves a holistic approach, which considers the body as a whole, rather than just focusing on the illness or injury. It directly involves you the patient in your own care - often you will be given exercises to carry out at home between sessions.

Physiotherapist is a protected title. All physiotherapists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC); they may also have the letters MCSP or FCSP after their name (member or fellow of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy). You can check whether your physiotherapist is registered using the search facility on the Health and Care Professions Council's website.

How can I find a physiotherapist?

Physiotherapists often work as part of a multidisciplinary team. They can be based in many different settings, including:

  • hospital
  • community health centre or clinic
  • GP surgery
  • some physiotherapists offer home visits.

Physiotherapists can use several approaches during treatment, these include:

  • providing tailored exercises to strengthen specific areas of the body
  • education and advice - for example on posture, the correct way to lift and carry things, and on appropriate levels of physical activity to improve your general health or mobility
  • manual therapy such as massage, or manipulation of specific areas of the body, to relieve pain or stiffness
  • electrotherapy - including ultrasound, heat or cold therapy and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).

Some physiotherapists may also be trained to provide other treatments such as hydrotherapy or aquatic therapy - where exercises are carried out in water, or acupuncture.

You usually need a GP, MS nurse or neurologist to make a referral for physiotherapy on the NHS, although in some areas you can self-refer. However, NHS access to physiotherapy for people with long-term conditions may be limited to six sessions in every two-year period and there are often long waiting lists. MS specialist therapists are shown on our map of MS services.

Some people choose to look for a private physiotherapist because of the constraints of NHS services. If you work for a large company that has occupational health services or offers private healthcare, you may be able to access a physiotherapist through work. Some sports clubs or teams provide physiotherapy to members. There are also some charities that offer physiotherapy services, for example many MS Therapy Centres try to provide better access to physiotherapy for people with MS.

If none of the above are options for you, there are websites which can help you find a private physiotherapist such as Physio2u and Physio First. You can often narrow your search down to find a physiotherapist who has experience of working with people with neurological conditions such as MS.

Find out more

Wiles CM, et al.
Controlled randomised crossover trial of the effects of physiotherapy on mobility in chronic multiple sclerosis.
Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 2001;70(2):174-179.
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