Movement and coordination problems

MS can cause problems with movement, balance and coordination, including:

  • loss of balance
  • tremor
  • unstable walking (ataxia)
  • giddiness (vertigo)
  • clumsiness of a limb
  • lack of coordination
  • muscle weakness
  • tightness, stiffness or 'pull' of muscles (spasticity)
  • involuntary muscle spasms
These problems are often responsible for the physical disability that can accumulate in MS over time.

It is thought that movement problems are caused by myelin damage in the cerebellum and its connections, which impairs the workings of the network, causing uncoordinated movements. A loss of balance and vertigo has been found to be due to lesions in the complex pathways that coordinate visual, spatial and other input to the brain needed to produce and maintain body equilibrium.

Can these symptoms be treated or managed?

These symptoms can often be alleviated through physical therapy, and in many cases, initial interventions such as stretching, exercise and rehabilitation are helpful.

A number of medications have been used to treat spasticity, including baclofen, tizanidine, diazepam dantrolene, although these have side effects which may prevent some people tolerating them. Read more in MS in focus - spasticity

There are only a few drug therapies which have been shown to help ataxia or tremor, and there are some surgical options for these particular symptoms. Read more in MS in focus - ataxia and tremor.

Balance and vertigo is usually treated with motion sickness medication.

Other useful information can be found on the US National MS Society's website here.