Collateral Damage


It’s useless to try to make sense of something like multiple sclerosis.  Nobody knows its cause, when or how it might attack, the speed at which it will progress, and certainly not how to cure it.  We do know what it does to the central nervous system, and those of us who have it certainly know how it individually and personally affects us physically, cognitively and emotionally.

It seems to usually affect a person’s legs before their arms, as it did mine.  Before it affected my legs, I thought it would be and feel much different. For whatever reason, I assumed numbness would start at my toes and work its way up my leg.  Instead, I had areas of numbness scattered randomly in my feet and throughout the length of my legs. Its impossible to tell exactly where those areas are at any given moment, as they have different degrees of sensation. Those areas sneakily grew over time and are still growing, but I still have some minor use of both of my legs although it’s difficult to determine exactly which parts work and which parts don’t.

What I never considered before my difficulty walking, was how my arms would be affected by what MS would do to my legs. You see, once your legs begin becoming weak, you need your hands to balance and steady yourself, leaving them unavailable for other things.  When you start using a cane or a walker or scooter or a wheelchair, you are not able to hold or carry things because your hands and arms are required to grip and steer equipment and help propel you forward; therefore, arms can no longer be used to hold items. And without bearing weight by holding items and carrying things, arms become weaker from lack of use. Even before arms are affected by MS themselves, arms are affected by legs that are affected by MS.  Arms became collateral damage from legs not working.

When I started having issues with my legs and realized that my arms were becoming weak from not using them, I began to exercise them to preserve their use. We had two pound weights at the house. I developed my own exercises to maintain and grow strength. weights2I have five different exercises. I worked up to 100 times per exercise and remain at that number. To increase strength, I bought heavier weights. My left arm is weaker than my right, so I use a lighter weight for my left hand (3 pounds) than I do for my right (5 pounds).  I stick with my routine and try to do the exercises every evening, but if that’s not possible I’m satisfied with three times a week. I also exercise my legs with my motorized foot cycle – it’s the next best thing to walking to retain strength. Strengthening exercises for both arms and legs can keep me busy for up to 1  1/2 hours. Mr. legs and I talk or often watch television shows together while I exercise in the evening.


weights3By exercising my arms, I am able maintain some strength and use them to move the rest of me.  MS is slowly taking their strength, but I am doing whatever I can to combat its effect. I have the power to do so and I’m using it!


If you have the luxury of a physical therapist, ask for exercise recommendations.  The exercises I do work from a seated position and are effective for me.  If it would help you, use them, adapt them, or make up your own.  Start with a low number, then increase over time.  Begin with 2 pound weights and increase weight if and when you can comfortably do 100 repetitions of your exercises. Increase weight size if you are able to.   My exercises follow.  Order doesn’t matter.

1.  Holding weights in a vertical position (palms facing each other), arms alternate stretching outward, straightening as the weight moves forward.  Repeat.

2.   Holding weights horizontally in front of you, hit/bump the ends together, then flip the weights and hit the other opposite ends together.  Repeat.

3.  Holding weights horizontally (palms up), straighten both arms outward together, then bend them bringing the weights back toward you.  Repeat.

4.  Holding the weights vertically (palms facing each other), move them alternately up and down at the sides of your body.  Repeat.

5.  Holding weights horizontally with arms at your sides (palms up), bend elbows alternately, bringing weights upward, then back down.  Repeat.

Keep using what you have, as long as you can, to stay as independent and able as possible.


About Climbing Downhill

Wife and mother of grown kids, in my 50's and dealing with MS, making life's moments count and trying to offer something of value to others along the way.
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14 Responses to Collateral Damage

  1. notewords says:

    Excellent advice! Thanks for the clear explanation.

  2. Declan Groeger says:

    Loved the read. The old saying “Use it or Lose it” is so true especially with the ‘sneak thief’ MS. I work hard at keeping as mobile as possible but sometimes it’s difficult to remain focused as we are fighting a losing battle. Positivity is so important.

    • “Sneak thief” is an excellent term. It is difficult to remember to move intentionally when it becomes more difficult to move. When things become harder and/or painful to do, its human nature to avoid doing them but in the long run lack of movement just increases the difficulty and pain….but with MS it eventually gets more difficult and painful anyway. We push forward and do the best we can while we can. I always appreciate your encouraging comments!

  3. says:

    “Keep using what you have” is my credo, too. I recite it daily to anyone who will listen, young, old, able or not.

  4. In saying it to others, you hear it yourself – that’s a win-win!

  5. Yes indeed, today I committed to using my hand weights every day to build up the strength in my arms. I’m going to walk more – park a little further away instead of trying to always park as close as I can to wherever I’m going.

    I lucky with MS, doing well with Gilenya, but I know I have to put in too, and not rely of medication doing it all. So, a positive attitude, a healthy diet and more exercise! That’s my prescription for a better life with MS.

    • Good goals. Glad you’re doing well, Don’t know what stage your MS is at, so will just say if you park far away make sure you will be able to get back to your car when you come out. It’s good to weigh risks before making decisions.

  6. Yep, yep,yep…you go girl!
    Move what you can as much as you can. Exercise will make you feel better than any pill, shot or infusion.
    Great post. Great advice & motivation.
    Thank you for making positive steps forward.

  7. Hi Climbing Downhill,

    I had to comment on the weight exercises you do. As I do pretty much the same, with the same type and size of weights.

    I have had MS for over 20 years and the body does weaken and muscles atrophy despite exercise.

    Like you, my left arm is much weaker than the right and, therefore, the muscle wastage is far more obvious in the left arm.

    I exercise with arm curls and lifts most days. But despite doing double the number of repititions with my left arm, my biceps refuse to grow.

    • I appreciate your comment Stephen. I have no illusion of growing muscle, only to slow the deterioration process. Hope that’s working for both of us!

      • Hi Climbing Downhill,

        I suppose I would have like to build muscle, but the point I was trying to make is that MS manifests in some peculiar ways and my experience of continued muscle atrophy despite exercise was just one such example.

        I hope you are being successful in battling the MonSter and your exercise is being fruitful.

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