7 Stretches to Help Relieve Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, According to a Physical Therapist

As you perform floor stretches, keep a yoga mat handy for extra comfort.
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Although multiple sclerosis (MS) is often accompanied by a number of challenging symptoms, moving your body can help alleviate the side effects of this condition.


"Multiple sclerosis can manifest a variety of symptoms, all of which are neurological in nature, that can lead to a host of issues that can be functional, physical and emotional," says David Nieves, DPT, a physical therapist who specializes in treating people with neurological conditions, like MS.

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Common MS symptoms include fatigue, muscle spasms and stiffness, muscle weakness, difficulty walking without assistance, numbness, tingling or pain. But stretching can minimize muscle stiffness and rigidity, helping improve your daily movement, Nieves says.

If you're ready to get started with mobility-supporting movements, Nieves shares his top stretches to help relieve symptoms of MS.


Before you try any new stretches or exercises, speak to your physical therapist to confirm these are safe for your body. And if you're doing these moves on your own, be careful not to overexert yourself or ignore any pain.

1. Knee to Chest

Time 30 Sec
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie comfortably on your back on a firm surface, legs straight out.
  2. Wrap your hands behind your right knee.
  3. Gently pull to your chest, keeping your left leg extended.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Relax, gently release your right leg and repeat on the opposite side.

The knee-to-chest stretch loosens stiffness in your glutes and lower back, and can therefore help alleviate back pain, which often happens with MS, Nieves says.

2. Hamstring Stretch

Time 30 Sec
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie down on your back, legs extended.
  2. Wrap a towel, rope or resistance band around the middle of your left foot.
  3. Keeping your knee extended, gently your to pull the leg up toward the ceiling, feeling a pull in the back of your leg. Don't pull too hard. Take your time with it.
  4. Hold this stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Relax, and then repeat on the other side.


The hamstring stretch is great because it can help keep your hamstrings at a normal length, limiting the effects of spasticity (extreme muscle tightness), which can affect your ability to walk properly, Nieves says.

"An alternative way to do this stretch is to sit on a firm surface or on the floor and then put your leg up to the side and reach for your toe," Nieves says. You want to feel the stretch but don't push to the point of pain.

3. Supine Trunk Rotation

Time 30 Sec
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie down on your back, legs extended and arms at your sides.
  2. Take hold of your right knee with your left hand.
  3. Gently pull your right knee across your body toward your left shoulder, rotating your torso to face the left. As you rotate, keep your right shoulder blade glued to the floor as best as possible.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Relax, and then repeat on the other side.

Doing the spine trunk rotation can help you rotate your body more easily, and it might even help alleviate back pain and stiffness, Nieves says.

4. Prone Extension

Time 30 Sec
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie down on your stomach with your legs extended behind you.
  2. Place your hands on the ground right beneath your shoulders.
  3. Press into the ground and gently lift your shoulders, forming a small arch in your back.
  4. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Gently lower back down to the ground.


If you have any pain in your lower back or abdomen while doing this stretch, move out of the position or consult with your physical therapist.

Nieves recommends the prone trunk extension because it stretches your abdominal wall, helping mitigate the effects of spending a significant amount of time sitting.

5. Quad Stretch

Time 30 Sec
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie down on your stomach, legs extended behind you.
  2. Gently take hold of your left foot.
  3. Keeping your left thigh glued to the ground, pull your heel to your butt.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Gently release your foot and switch sides.


If you're having trouble performing this stretch, try using a towel or resistance band to pull your leg back. Still feel uncomfortable? Try a standing quad stretch, holding something stable for balance. "Reach, grab your foot, bring your heel to your buttocks and keep your knee in line with the other knee to stretch your quad," Nieves says.

Stretching your quads is important because it can help maintain normal range of motion across your knee. It can also help if you find yourself involuntarily straightening your legs, which is a symptom of MS, Nieves says.

6. Hip Flexor Stretch

Time 30 Sec
Activity Stretching
  1. Stand next to your bed, body facing towards the pillows at the top.
  2. Keeping your left foot planted, slightly bend your left knee and place your hands on the bed for stability.
  3. At the same time, bring your right leg up onto the bed, knee and hips extended.
  4. Gently lift your shoulders up toward the ceiling, feeling a gentle pull along the front side of your hip.
  5. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  6. Gently release the stretch and switch sides.


Another way to do this stretch is in a standing position using a chair or table for balance. "Bring the leg you're going to stretch back, keeping the leg and knee straight, and then drop the hip to the ground," Nieves says. "You'll feel a pull on the front side of your hip — that's your hip flexor stretch."

This hip flexor stretch, combined with consistent glute-strengthening movements, can help maintain a normal stride length when walking, Nieves says.

7. Runner's Stretch

Time 30 Sec
Activity Stretching
  1. Stand in front of a wall, several feet away, facing the wall.
  2. Place both hands on the wall, and take a step back with your left leg.
  3. Plant your heels down and then place your foot flat on the ground. At the same time, bend your right knee slightly.
  4. At this point in time, you're going to get a pull along the backside of your calf into your knee.
  5. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, and then switch legs.


To intensify the stretch a bit, lunge farther forward on the opposite leg while keeping the heel down.

The runner's stretch can help maintain range of motion across the ankle and flexibility in the calves, which all help with balance and walking, Nieves says.

Tips for Exercising Safely With MS

1. Don't Overdo It

"My first recommendation to people with MS is not to overexert themselves," Nieves says. "This can often leave them feeling weaker than before starting their exercise regimen."


"Flexibility exercises can be done daily as they should not involve a high level of exertion," Nieves says. Aim to stretch daily, if you're able to, but make sure to listen to your body. If you feel any sharp pain or discomfort, stop what you're doing and consult a medical professional.

Overexerting yourself can also potentially lead to accidental injuries, so make sure to start slow, especially when you're just beginning.


2. Avoid Overheating

Just as you should avoid working yourself up into a hot and prolonged sweat, you should also avoid exercising in hot weather or in the sun.

Most people with MS don't tolerate heat too well and can experience some negative side effects when they overheat, including a temporary inability to move, Nieves says.


So make sure to stay hydrated while you're working out and keep a fan or the AC on nearby. If you feel yourself getting too warm, pause your stretch session or workout and allow your heart rate to drop slowly.

3. Pay Attention to Your Form

Pay extra attention to maintaining proper technique and form throughout each stretch. "The effects of MS can cause abnormal movement patterns, which can affect proper exercise techniques. And poor technique can lead to injury or worsening of aberrant movement patterns," Nieves says.

If you're unsure about your form, stop what you're doing and talk with your physical or occupational therapist, who can show you how to perform each stretch correctly.



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