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MS versus Gravity

In childhood I was the person in our family who didn’t have the gift of coordination – my mother heard the discouraging news early on in Kindergarten that I should be retained for a second year in grade K because I was unable to bounce a ball. Yes, there was such a test to make sure I was developing physically as well as intellectually. It seems even back then physical prowess was more important than the fact I was reading well above grade level, and could play two handed piano music, which is no small feat of coordination.

I’m fortunate my mom didn’t listen to those experts and she insisted I move on to the next grade level. Had she waited until I developed a greater sense of coordination, I might still be stuck in primary school because full grace at moving speed never came for me. My adolescent years are littered with spills and falls, fortunately most not requiring emergent medical care.

Diagnosing and treating MS always includes questions about balance because that is a common problem, and the doctors regularly ask about any recent trips or falls. This is a disease that can make even the strongest of us walk at times like we have been on an all-night bender, weaving left and right to get to our goal. Stay upright can become the ultimate challenge on some days.

For several years I confidently checked off the ‘no problem’ box on my medical forms about falls, but that hasn’t been the case lately; recently I have not been able to brush aside those questions. I took a serious spill in late-November, attributable to an ill-placed obstacle in my path at work. Although the physical obstacle was there, I silently wondered how much MS contributed to my inability to recover gracefully from this stumble and instead turned into the mother of all slip-n-slide belly flops and a lengthy visit to the Emergency Room. It was easily mid-January before I was 90% mended from the deep contusions and bruising.

Fast forward to late February, and I find myself on the floor again. Unfortunately, this time accompanied with lots of blood, another trip to the ER, and sutures to my forehead. It seems in the battle of flesh vs concrete, the latter usually wins. Just as with the previous fall, I was fully aware of what was happening when I went down and experienced it unfolding in slow motion – this time I was exercising on the floor at the gym, got up and was ready to call it a day and when I moved I didn’t realize my toes were under the edge of the mat. Gravity assisted with the tumble, and I was unable to recover and keep myself upright. It would be so much simpler if I could claim an episode of syncope – a sudden loss of consciousness when changing positions, rather than weigh the other options.

Now I am faced with two questions – did my MS contribute to my inability to recover from falling to remain upright, and did it also cause me to lack the proprioception to sense the location of my feet? The mind/nervous system/body connection to know at all times where the extremities are is complicated and essential to navigating the world, safely. Grudgingly I have to admit that perhaps this latest episode may be another outward sign of my slowly-changing MS. I lamely protested to the ER nurse as she placed a yellow FALL RISK band on my wrist, but to no avail. My hospital records now indicate I have had multiple falls and require special medical attention to keep me safe from myself.

Falls can be a common problem with MS, and a subtle indicator of disease progression that most of us don’t want to acknowledge. For now, even though I have the bruises and black eyes as evidence that my body has been through something traumatic, I want to push those nagging questions aside and refuse to let MS be a part of the answers. I hope I don’t have to revisit the question anytime soon – is it my MS or not?

Wishing you well,

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Deb Padovano
    7 years ago

    My 30 year old daughter was diagnosed with MS almost 3 years ago. Reading this article on falling made me feel kind of scared. I subscribed to this newsletter so that I could become more informed. To my knowledge, she has not yet reached this point where she is falling. We don’t live together and I am concerned that she may not tell me if this is happening to her. She does get several headaches, suffers from absolute exhaustion and some numbness. Thank you for this article. It gave me a heads up of more to look for…xxxooo

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    7 years ago

    Hi, Deb.
    Being a mom of someone with MS puts you in such a special category – being alert to changes but not smothering her with your attention and concern must be a difficult balancing act. Most neurologists use a fairly standard pre-visit list of screening tools that includes fucntions that may have quietly changed for us -sleep habits, depression, sexual disfunction, bladder/bowel incontinence and of course falls are on the short list. Not every one has these problems, but the doctors do their best to track changes and react accordingly with therapy and other forms of treatment. I hope for your daughter she will do well with her treatment and her MS will remain stable. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Laura

  • karenhpiano
    7 years ago

    Oh my gosh, I am totally with you! I was a total klutz all the time growing up. AND I have NEVER been able to actually walk a straight line. I am not allowed to walk in front of my husband anymore because he inevitably runs into me because I wander into his path. When my parents were alive, they complained of the same thing. I just shrugged it off as me being me until after I was diagnosed with MS and now I keep thinking back and wondering. I have taken some SERIOUS falls lately that I sit there and can’t figure out why the heck I fell. I usually shrug it off and make an excuse but part of me wonders… Anyway it was great to read this.

  • carol
    7 years ago

    I have fallen so many times I’ve lost count. I fall at least 2 times a month even using a walker. I know my balance is off because of my ms, it was one of my first symptons.

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    7 years ago

    I do my best to laugh these falls off, but lately they have left me more injured than amused. Thanks for sharing your experiences- here’s to us both staying upright! ~Laura

  • Cheryl passarelli
    7 years ago

    I too was a clutzy unbalance child. I’m sure it had to do with MS. I’m afraid I see it in my klutzy daughter. And the told me she couldn’t hop on one foot in kindergarten. …so hmmm. Good question. I think the answer is yes it did have something to do with it. I fallen b4 ms. At least I have an excuse now 🙂

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    7 years ago

    I trust your child will recover from not hopping – to this day I stil can’t bounce a ball well but it hasn’t stopped me from being successful in other ways. I was just not destined to play basketball. 🙂 Thanks for sharing the smile – we all need a good excuse now and then. – Laura

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