Results from CU Exercise and MS Study Show Benefits of Balance Exercises

Results from a study led by Dr. Jeffrey Hebert, PT, PhD of the University of Colorado School of Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus were published last month in the journal Neurology. The research team investigated the effectiveness of Balance and Eye-Movement Exercises for People with Multiple Sclerosis (BEEMS), a rehabilitation program designed by Dr. Hebert and his team. The researchers found that MS patients who took part in an exercise program focused on balance and vision experienced significantly more improvement in balance, fatigue, cognition, dizziness, and quality of life than those individuals in the untreated control group.

The damage that the immune system causes in MS can impact various parts of the brain and spinal cord. How that damage manifests in different patients varies from person to person, and depends on which parts of the nervous system are affected by the disease. Damage to the cerebellum and brainstem can impact the processing of signals from sensory, visual and inner ear systems. This can cause problems with an individual’s balance and coordination and can sometimes result in falls.

This study explored whether a balance-focused exercise program would improve certain outcomes in people living with MS. Eighty-eight people with MS took part in the study, and all participants were able to walk at least 100 meters using at most a cane or other assistive device on one side. A neurologist confirmed the MRI scans of all participants to assess whether or not participants’ cerebellum or brainstem were impacted by disease activity.

Individuals participating in the study were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group participated in the BEEMS exercise program. This program involved the supervised exercises twice weekly for six weeks. In addition, they were given instructions for exercising every day at home for during the six weeks. At the end of the six weeks, they completed an additional supervised exercise sessions once weekly for eight weeks along with their daily exercises at home. 

The exercise program for participants involved the following BEEMS exercise components: 1) Balancing on various surfaces and base of support alignments; 2) Walking, while performing unpredictable challenging tasks such as head movements, turns and stop/start; and 3) Various eye movement and visual fixation exercises. 

In the second group, participants were placed on a waiting list for the program. Both groups completed tests at baseline, after six weeks and again at 14 weeks.

The researchers found that participants who completed the BEEMS exercises improved in their balance significantly more than those in the control (waiting list) group. The BEEMS group participants also had greater improvements in fatigue, dizziness and quality of life.

“I think the clinical application of the BEEMS program is immediate,” he said. “There has been no hesitation to implement it clinically, and in fact I have been having my patients on the BEEMS program for several years now.” Dr. Hebert says. Furthermore, Dr. Hebert believes “that by improving balance and other important related factors such as fatigue, patients with MS will have less barriers to improving their engagement in physical activity, leading to improved overall fitness.”

 Further studies will be needed to confirm these results and to help determine how long the benefits can be sustained.

If you are interested in the BEEMS program, please reach out to your local rehabilitation specialist and inquire if they are MS specialists. Ask them whether they have been trained by Dr. Hebert in the BEEMS Program or have access to his research, including the 2011 BEEMS pilot report via the American PT Association's Journal the PT Journal. 


To learn more about MS and Exercise, check out RMMSC’s webinar with Dr. Hebert.