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MS Institute at Shepherd Center Offers a Custom-Made Approach to Wellness

The Eula C. and Andrew C. Carlos MS Wellness and Rehabilitation Center is dedicated to helping people with MS.

To Christine Manella, PT, LMT, MCMT, the most rewarding part of her job is when she hears laughter in the background at the Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Institute.

“MS is a chronic disease, and it can be a tough disease,” she says. “When I hear people enjoying themselves and being glad to be here, it is very gratifying.”

“Here” is the Eula C. & Andrew C. Carlos MS Wellness and Rehabilitation Center within the MS Institute, just one of the components of the comprehensive approach Shepherd Center takes in treating MS, a disease of the central nervous system. Created in 2013 with a generous gift from the Carlos Family, the program was one of the first in the nation to integrate all aspects of wellness – fitness, nutrition and education – into a single approach tailored specifically for people with MS.

“The goal of the program is to improve the function, health, wellness and quality of life in people with MS,” Manella says, adding that participants in the program can get fitness assessments and take part in fitness classes tailored to people with MS. The program also offers lecture-style classes on topics ranging from nutrition to management of stress and fatigue.

The Wellness Center will get even more of a boost this fall when funds raised from The Legendary Party, Shepherd’s premier fundraising event, will benefit the program. The funds will cover personal training scholarships, the purchase of additional equipment, an additional exercise physiologist and new research projects.

Membership in the MS Wellness Program includes a full gym membership at Shepherd’s ProMotion Fitness Center. In addition to services offered through ProMotion, MS program participants can take specialized classes in cardiovascular exercise, core conditioning and lower-extremity strength.

The key word is specialized. For example, because people with MS tend to get overheated more easily, the classes are equipped with fans and ice vests to make it more comfortable and safer for them to exercise. Small class sizes – with just six to eight participants – allow instructors to pace the class differently and monitor each participant more closely to make sure their needs are being met. Classes are offered in balance, yoga, Pilates, agility, core strength and cardio. There’s even an exercise class for people who are newly diagnosed.

“Our goal is to help every individual who has MS to be active,” Manella says. “Sometimes, they think exercise is not an option. We can show them it is and tailor our classes to their needs.” Beyond physical wellness, Manella says there is also a social aspect to the program, in coming together at the center, as well as participating in group activities twice a month. Those include games to enhance fine motor skills, bridge and sewing groups.

Research is another important component in both the clinical and wellness programs within the MS Institute. “We evaluate different types of interventions that can be beneficial, ways to deliver those interventions – including managing the barriers – and how it impacts the disease itself,” says Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., FACRM, director of research in the MS Institute. “We are fortunate that we can engage a large number of our patients in research, and we can study their outcomes. Because of that, we can take a multi-faceted approach to research that allows us to take the best approaches to treatment and rehabilitation.”

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Written by Sara Baxter
Photos by Gary Meek


About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 743 inpatients, 277 day program patients and more than 7,161 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.