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Shepherd Center Study Shows Patients with Multiple Sclerosis Can Benefit from Cycling with a Specialized Bike

Physical activity improves mood and health. But for people with moderate to severe multiple sclerosis, fatigue and muscle weakness have made it seem all but impossible to achieve those benefits.

Soon, exercise may become a new avenue of therapy for people with multiple sclerosis (MS). A recent Shepherd Center study shows that people with MS who use a wheelchair can safely train on a Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) bike. For the study, 15 people with MS exercised for 30 minutes, three times a week at the Eula C. and Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis Rehabilitation and Wellness Program at Shepherd Center.

Throughout the study, participants increased the amount of time they were able to cycle, and some were able to increase their resistance, as well. After four weeks, they reported a decrease in pain.

“The participants were very positive about FES cycling and were pleased to have an opportunity to exercise,” said Deborah Backus, PT, Ph.D., director of multiple sclerosis research at Shepherd Center. “Not only did they experience less fatigue over time, but some said they actually felt they could think more clearly after they exercised on the bike.”

Increased stamina and mobility also benefits caregivers, Dr. Backus said. “Several caregivers reported it was easier to work with the person they were caring for with MS, and they seemed to have more energy,” she noted.

Shepherd Center plans to expand the study, looking at different exercise protocols and measuring the outcomes.

Meanwhile, Shepherd researchers have already found some potential physiologic improvements related to the exercise. A study conducted in collaboration with the University of Georgia found that people with MS who exercised for four weeks with the FES bike showed improved muscle metabolism.

“Our preliminary data indicates we may be able to alter metabolism in the muscles of some people with MS, which would bring long-term benefits of better stamina and overall health,” Dr. Backus said.

As Shepherd Center continues to explore the benefits of exercise for people with MS, it won’t be difficult to recruit additional patients for exercise sessions. “We get phone calls from people who want to be in our study,” she noted.

For information on how to participate in Shepherd Center research, click here.

By Michele Cohen Marill

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.