My Friend: The Stretch Strap
The effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) can lead to a change in physical activity and abilities. This could be both positive and negative for our well-being. Some changes can actually be beneficial. But just because MS changes our body in a way that makes things harder, doesn’t mean that we just let it happen and do nothing about it.
MS pushed me to be more active
After an MS diagnosis, we might feel inspired and encouraged to become more physically active in order to counteract the potential negative effects of the disease on our muscle strength, flexibility, and coordination. My own decision to purchase a bike a few years ago was a turning point to my becoming more active after living a mostly sedentary life. Cycling has helped me develop confidence in myself, move my body in a way that improves physical fitness, and have fun!!
Over the years, I’ve been challenged with balance issues. Earlier in my diagnosis, I sought help from a physical therapist who specializes in neurologic diseases. She helped me to learn how to counter the effects of a lack of balance. Not only did we work on vestibular balance exercises, but we worked on strengthening important muscle groups. This made a significant positive effect on my physical and mental well-being. It was also fun to be able to use my PT’s impressive collection of weight machines in her office space.
Simple tools can be helpful too
Fighting some of the effects of MS doesn’t really require a bicycle or other complicated equipment. Something as simple and compact as a strong woven nylon strap can make a world of difference.
Over the years, I’ve experienced spasticity in my legs, tight muscles, weak muscles, and a lack of coordination. These symptoms can cause pain and impact mobility. At one point my neurologist suggested that yoga and regular stretching might be helpful to combat some of these symptoms. Yoga always felt good but didn’t quite reach the places that I felt needed the most attention at times.
When I first started experiencing severe knee pain a decade ago, I was introduced to a different physical therapist. She discovered that very tight and shortened muscles were contributing to reduced flexibility in my joints. It was during sessions that she introduced me to the benefits of a stretch strap. (I personally own the Original Stretch Out Strap made by OPTP). I used it for a while at home but eventually, it found a place in a dresser drawer snuggled up (and forgotten) amongst my socks.
Stretching and surgery recovery
More recently I’ve have bilateral total knee replacement surgeries which I’ve written about in two articles (part 1 and part 2) so far. During physical therapy following surgery, my physical therapist brought out a stretch strap. Hey, I knew what this was all about I thought.
But, oh boy, how did the suggested stretches really reach the necessary tight spots this time.
If you are unfamiliar with a stretch strap, it is a long nylon, doubled-up, flat cord that is sewn together in such a way as to create several loops along its length. Those loops are very helpful because you can easily slide your foot in one and grab another loop to gently pull in the way that you want.
Stretches that have helped the most
The stretch that helps me the most, tackles the stubbornness of my hamstrings. With the strap, I can put my foot in one of the central loops and use my hands to grab loops dangling on each side of my leg. While laying flat on the bed or floor, I can slowly raise and straighten my leg while gently using the strap to pull my foot toward the direction of my head.
If I’m really being thoughtful and keeping my knee straight (as I know I should), sometimes I can only raise my straight leg a foot or two off the bed/floor. But as the hamstring muscle on the back of my leg loosens up, I can begin to reach the bottom of my foot closer to pointing at the ceiling.
With the stretch strap (which as I mentioned before is my friend), I can keep my shoulders relaxed and don’t have to reach very far at all while maneuvering my leg. It makes it easy (or at least easier) to conquer the stiffness in my legs. Anytime my calves start to complain and get tight, I’ve learned that giving my hamstrings a good stretch will often get the calves to succumb to some lengthening as well.
The stretching options are endless!
The stretch strap has many more uses but this happens to be my favorite one. For the curious, there are many YouTube videos that feature different ways the strap can be used to help different parts of the body.
Do you have a simple tool you can use at home that helps you to keep your body functioning as you’d like? Please share your stories in the comments below. I’d love to pick up some new tips!
How often do you use assistive devices to help manage your MS?