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Focusing on MS-related weakness to improve strength

By Matt Cavallo
In 2016, I suffered a devastating multiple sclerosis relapse. That relapse decimated the strength on the right side of my body. My right arm and right leg have never been the same. Since that relapse, I have been unable to throw a ball with my sons like I used to. I have also developed a right-side limp where I swing and drag my right leg rather than lifting and striding. 

Up until 2016, I had always bounced back from my MS relapses. The strength in my right side never came back. It has been six years now and I had started to give up. I lost my confidence that I could play sports with my boys so I had relegated myself to the sidelines.  As a result of losing my strength, I became much more inactive.  Since I couldn’t move as well and my confidence was gone, I started to withdraw and become inactive. I definitely lost muscle mass and strength, and although it was never diagnosed, I believe that I experienced disuse atrophy in my right arm and leg. I was at the point where I was ready to give up. 

Before I lost all hope with the issues on my right side, I did something seemingly unrelated, and enrolled in a medical weight loss program. I struggled with weight gain and dieting hadn’t worked, so I went to seek help from a weight-loss professional and, as a result, was able to loss 45 pounds. 

Because I had success losing weight, I decided to apply that same logic to my right-side weakness. I went to the gym and talked to a personal trainer. My personal trainer’s mother, ironically enough, had MS. She also had similar issues with weakness on one side, and he had some success helping his mom. The personal trainer developed an exercise program for me that isolates each side, meaning rather than pushing weight with both arms or legs, we isolate each side. So, we do one rep on the right, followed by a rep on the left. At first, my left side dominated. I was unable to push weight on my right side no matter how hard I tried. However, we didn’t give up. During the past month, I have been working with my personal trainer three times a week. Slowly, but surely, I have been able to push more on my right side.

I also started to notice gains when walking my dogs. I wasn’t limping as noticeably, and my stamina had increased. Those small improvements gave me the confidence to go to the gym and work harder. A month after starting with the personal trainer, my limp is mostly gone. There are times when I am fatigued and I notice it comes back, but for the most part I am walking normally again. My right side has also caught up with my left in terms of strength. I feel like I am building the mind-body connection and overcoming the weakness caused by my MS relapse. Next week, we are going to see if I can graduate from isolation workout and have my right and left side work together.

If you are like me and experiencing weakness because of a MS-related relapse, don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to put in the work even if at first it doesn’t seem like you can do it. You will be surprised by what you can accomplish if you don’t give up. I wish I had the confidence to work on my strengthening earlier instead of waiting six years to get started. For me, the biggest obstacle was finding the courage to turn my weakness into a strength.