Recovery after an MS Exacerbation

So you’ve had a relapse/exacerbation/flare up. Hopefully, you’ve already had the conversation with your healthcare professional about managing the flare-up. You may take high doses of steroids to reduce the inflammation, but you’re coming down from the drugs and looking at recovery. What does recovery after an MS exacerbation look like?

Like all things MS related, your recovery is going to look different from mine which is going to look different from someone else’s. Having some ideas of what you can expect and what you can do on your own might help plan your next exacerbation recovery.

I am not a healthcare professional so all that follows should not be taken as medical advice.

Relapse-Remitting & Recovery

With Relapse-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) there’s a chance of recovery after each exacerbation. That means, there’s also a chance you won’t go back to the way you were prior to the flare-up. After my second major flare-up when I was abroad, I never got my full feeling back in my right index finger and thumb.

When you don’t go completely back to the way you were before, it’s extremely frustrating. But there are some ways to manage your recovery as a means of self-care, i.e. taking back control of your body. These are forms of complementary care: suggestions to work in tandem with your medical treatment.

Because I have RRMS, I can only speak to what recovery looks like after each exacerbation. If you have Primary-Progressive or Secondary-Progressive, recovery is going to look completely different. What follows are based on my experience dealing with RRMS.

Ways to Manage the Recovery

You are taking your steroids or following your doctor’s orders. What else can you do to help recover?

  1. Self-assess: figure out what you are capable of doing. You don’t want to push beyond your capabilities. Take any advice from your doctor into consideration – they will help you self-assess.
  2. Keep your limitations in mind: you do want to push yourself, but it has to be safe and with your abilities in mind. Do not put yourself in a dangerous situation where you can make yourself worse or hurt yourself.
  3. Research: figure out what will help you in your recovery. Ask your healthcare team for suggestions for good websites or if they have any groups where you live geared towards symptom treatment/prevention. Below you’ll find some simple suggestions for what you can do after each exacerbation to get you started.

While MS exacerbations are numerous, I’ve highlighted ones I’ve previously discussed and handled in my own life.


Depending on where the numbness affects you, you can find some minor exercises to help your body recover and get stronger. If you were numb in the face, look at some facial exercises. In your arms, strength training can help with the weakness you are feeling. In your legs, if you are able to go for a walk, even for a few steps, will help strengthen your muscles and get them moving again.

Also look into this as a great excuse for a massage. While you may not feel the masseuse (inform them of your condition), it might help work out a muscle that’s causing the numbness.

Optic Neuritis

While dealing with Optic Neuritis (ON) you really have to wait until the medication works to reduce the inflammation. But take this as an opportunity to give your eyes a break. While you might be super connected to your phone/tablet/TV, sometimes you have to put it all down and take a moment. Consider listening to a podcast (or audiobook) or finding ways to minimize your stress. Look into meditative techniques or breathing exercises.

Be careful of the natural remedies floating around the internet on treating ON. Many will not help or not help to the extent you need. Some may conflict with your drug regimen.


Fatigue is a difficult one to work through because many things require energy that you just don’t have. Outside of taking medication to help give you a boost of energy, consider adding in some exercise to provide a natural energy boost. It seems counter-intuitive because you are expending energy to exercise, but I find that I have energy several hours after only a half-hour of exercising.

Drinking a lot of water is another way to help increase your energy, along with setting up a nap schedule if you are able. I find that fatigue is less something you recover from, but have to manage on a daily basis.

Memory Fog

Memory fog is rather easy, because taking time to do puzzles, memory games, and vocab building can help decrease memory fog should help with your memory concerns. While it is easy, this sort of work will take more time than the other recovery exercises you do for your symptoms. It requires doing something brain-based every day to see any positive progress.

MS Hug

With the MS hug, consider some yoga stretches to help lengthen and strengthen your core. It won’t eliminate the symptom, but it will provide a nice stretch for the spasming muscles. If the linked poses are too strenuous, consider these which are more mat-based.

The MS hug will limit your movement and strength so even doing a simple side-stretch will help with your recovery.

Looking Towards Prevention

The theme of this year’s blog is taking steps towards self-improvement. I wanted to focus on finding ways to decrease my chances of getting exacerbations by setting goals that helped promote my personal wellness. By finding ways to lower my stress, I am taking the necessary steps to help lower my chances of an exacerbation. It’s not perfect, I still have days where getting out of bed is hard but I have gone over a whole year without an exacerbation (and I still haven’t gotten back on my medication).

While lowering stress works for me, there may be something else you can do to help prevent your symptoms. This will require self-reflection and figuring out what causes your exacerbations. If the answer is: “I don’t know,” consider working on minimizing stress as a starting place. Lowering stress is always a good place to start for anyone, MS or not.

As I always recommend, speak with your healthcare team to see what they can tell you to do to help prevent your exacerbations. Prevention, as with many things, is the best way to manage your recovery. It is never perfect, but it’s a great start.

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Featured photo credit: Mikita Karasiou on Unsplash

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