UB Researchers to Study Exercise as Treatment for Fatigue in Multiple Sclerosis Patients

By Lois Baker

Release Date: January 17, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo researchers will test the somewhat counterintuitive concept that exercise can lessen tiredness in persons with multiple sclerosis, a group especially susceptible to fatigue.

With a $450,000 grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Nadine Fisher, Ed.D., lead researcher on the study, will test the theory that a program of resistance exercises will lessen the fatigue MS patients experience after going through a regular workday and the residual fatigue that remains the next morning.

Fisher is a UB assistant professor of occupational therapy and clinical assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine. Her previous research has shown the value of strength training for improving physical stamina in adults and children with arthritis.

"The most common symptom of MS is a generalized sense of fatigue and reduced function," said Fisher. "Few studies have considered the role of exercise as a treatment for fatigue in MS. We think exercise may help develop some physical reserve, so people with MS can work for longer periods of time and come home with enough energy to participate in their home and leisure activities."

Fisher will work with a group of 60 persons diagnosed with mild to moderate MS. Participants will be assigned randomly to one of three subgroups: a supervised-exercise group, a home-exercise group and a no-exercise group. Twenty healthy persons without MS, but similar in all other ways, will serve as a control group.

Participants will be tested at three time points before the study begins: in the morning; at the end of a simulated 8-hour workday, and the following morning. The tests will measure neuromuscular, cardiovascular and cognitive function and ability to perform everyday activities.

Those assigned to exercise groups will participate for 16-weeks in a three-times-a-week individualized progressive resistance program of anti-fatiguing exercises. Fisher or her research colleagues will visit all home-based MS participants every two weeks to provide social contact and motivation, and will talk to the healthy controls by phone on the same schedule.

Fisher said the exercise groups will use machines or free weights, concentrating on improving muscular strength, endurance and contraction speed in the arms and legs. Participants will undergo a short assessment at eight weeks and a full assessment at the end of the program.

The study, she said, aims to accomplish at least two goals: raise participants' fatigue threshold so they can accomplish more work with less tiredness, and improve their ability to perform functional activities such as walking and stair-climbing.

Carl Granger, M.D., UB professor of rehabilitation medicine, will be co-investigator on the study. Carol Brownscheidle, Ph.D., UB clinical assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine and neurology, affiliated with the Jacobs Neurological Institute, will be a participating investigator. The late Lawrence Jacobs, M.D., internationally-known MS researcher and UB faculty member who died in November, also was a participating investigator on the grant.