Swimming - advice please

I have always enjoyed swimming and feel it helps with the m.s.

However I now find that after swimming about 18 lengths breast stroke my arms become completetly numb. When I change stroke to crawl the feeling returns. And I have no problem with backstroke. (I aim to do 32 lengths of the 25 meter pool.)

Also about half an hour after swimming I have a slight headache which lingers for a couple of hours.

I can put up with the headache but wonder if in fact I’m doing some harm to myself?


Hi Stenovski,

I’m not a big swimmer (only ever been able to do backstroke anyway), but in general I would say it’s rare that exercise is detrimental to people with MS.

It used to be thought so, because of the increase in symptoms many MSers experience during exercise. But nowadays, that’s considered a rather old-fashioned view, and people are encouraged to exercise within their capabilities.

If you are at all concerned your symptoms whilst swimming might not be MS (e.g. a heart problem), why not talk it over with your doctor? I’m sure they’ll either be able to reassure you, or arrange to have it checked out.


Hi Sten

Ex competitive swimmer and I sorely miss swimming. I had the same problems and an ice pack and ice cold water at the end of the lane was a great help.

Now any repetative movement causes pain particulalrly when there is resistance. I carried on for ages being stuborn but got fed up of being stranded with arms which would not work. Now my ears cause me so much trouble that I cannot stand the noise in the pool.

My physio who is an MS specialist was annoyed with me for doing things which she thought could cause damage. So take some advice yourself before you push too hard.

You already sound as if you are working out what works for you.



Hi Sten,

Well done you for doing 18 lengths

As Moira said though, sometimes it’s all too easy to push ourselves too hard - even if we’ve always been able to do so in the past, plus we don’t necessarily always realise we’re overdoing it until afterwards.

I used to be a very keen swimmer and I also used to go walking a lot too. The long walks I had to give up and the swimming I still do but not swimming as in ‘proper swimming’ - I do aquafit nowadays, at my own pace. Much as it annoys me, I can’t swim anywhere near the distances that I used to be able too and what I can do just doesn’t agree with me anymore

It doesn’t mean that you have to give up swimming, but perhaps stop or slow down the pace before your arms start to become numb and as Moira suggested, maybe seek some advice? Clearly swimming is what suits you and whilst working out what our limitations are isn’t always so easy, it sounds like you’re well on your way to finding yours.

Good luck!

Debbie xx

Hi, I used to swim quite a lot, yes with ms, until a few years ago. Never experienced the problem with my arms you describe. As for the headache, you don’t just think you are dehydrated do you. I never got a headache myself but always felt in need of a big drink (of water) when I came out. Cheryl:-)

Thanks for your replies. What seems odd to me is that when I change the stroke from breast to crawl full feeling returns to my arms.

However my biggest concern is the slight headache I have afterwards.

I think the best thing for me to do is to find a physio who knows something about m.s. and exercise.


Swimming is a great choice for people with MS. I trolled the local pool, set on going for a swim as often as I could. I got stronger and was enthused for years. I enjoyed the pool and all the energy that goes with it. The pool was cool, a great benefit to me and my heat sensitivity.

I headed into a very long remission. years long. Making myself stronger through swimming. The type of Multiple Sclerosis I have has dissipated considerably. I was beginning to depend on better health, always cognizant the MS could suddenly reappear. It hasn’t ! At its worst, ms threw me off balance, garbled my speech, blinded me, numbed numerous parts of my body, stole my sense of taste, gave me a severe pain spell, At one point I stood up only to collapse repeatedly…in 92’ I was definitely in deep trouble. It’s a routine very familiar to the many. I had all these episodes piling on top of each other. Doctors treated it all with steroids, methylprednisolone to be specific. I responded favourably, each and every time. I recall feeling better following an infusion of immune gamma globulin. That two day process was a real turning point. That infusion to me was the beginning of better health and stability.

I was very lucky, MS had loosened it’s grip and was allowing me to live a life with better health.

Several years passed by and the pool became super crowded even for 7:30 AM, I"m pleased the pool is being well used, but I was crowded out. The final straw was knocking off a fellows’ snorkel. He wasn’t keen of having his oxygen supply cut and neither was I. My swimming days were over. I had to find another way to keep myself moving.

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Wishing You all, the very best of Good Fortune , Sincerely David