GCU researchers to treat walking difficulties for MS patients

06 May 2015

Researchers are being funded by the MS Society to investigate ways to manage foot drop, which causes difficulties in walking for people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS is a progressive neurological condition. Around 75 per cent of people with MS have problems with walking, with foot drop one of the main symptoms affecting walking and resulting in tripping and an increased risk of falls.

GCU’s Linda Miller, a consultant physiotherapist in MS, also working at NHS Ayrshire & Arran, is leading the study to compare treatments for foot drop. GCU’s Danny Rafferty and Dr Lorna Paul from the University of Glasgow are also working on the project.

Treatments include functional electrical stimulation (FES), which stimulates the muscles and nerve fibres of the ankle and foot, and ankle foot orthoses (AFO), plastic splints which go down the back of the leg and under the foot to help to reduce tripping.

Although there is increasing evidence that FES is a clinically effective treatment for this symptom, there is not yet enough evidence on the impact this treatment has on quality of life and its cost effectiveness.

The team has previously published research which found that FES has a significant effect on increasing the walking speed and reducing the effort of walking in people with MS. However, prescription decisions are not currently based on evidence but on clinician preference, clinical judgement and cost.

The trial, which will run until 2016, will compare the different treatments for their effects on walking speed, fatigue, quality of life and cost-effectiveness.

The results of this study will inform the decisions that commissioners and clinicians make regarding the treatments that should be available, and if appropriate may lead to better access to FES.

At the end of the project all participants will be invited to a focus group which will explore their experiences of using the two treatments.

The results from this study will help to inform future decisions regarding the prescription of these treatments in people with MS and other neurological conditions.

The study is taking place at the Douglas Grant Rehabilitation Centre in Irvine, as well using equipment in GCU’s human performance labs.