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Underutilization of physical therapy for symptomatic women with MS during and following pregnancy



Many patients with MS continue to have symptoms of their disease even when inflammatory activity is reduced by DMTs. Although disease activity tends to be reduced during pregnancy - especially in the third trimester - women with MS can experience ongoing symptoms during pregnancy, or new ones in the immediate postpartum period, that degrade quality of life. While many MS-related and postpartum symptoms can be improved with physical therapy (PT), there are currently no guidelines on pregnancy-related rehabilitation in MS. In this analysis, we evaluated the prevalence of PT-amenable symptoms and patterns of PT referrals in a cohort of UCSF MS Clinic patients who became pregnant.


We extracted electronic medical records (EMR) data for the year before conception, during pregnancy, and year postpartum for women with MS cared for at UCSF between 09-2005 and 08-2019. This included clinical visits, MS therapies and symptoms (as defined by the National MS Society). PT and pelvic floor PT orders and notes were also extracted.


We included 142 live birth pregnancies from 118 women. During the course of their pregnancy and within the year postpartum, 107 women (75.4%) reported at least one PT-amenable symptom. A total of 30 (28.0%) referrals were made to PT, with attendance confirmed for 10 (33.3% of referrals). Symptoms most commonly triggering a referral for PT evaluation were numbness and urinary incontinence. Falls were reported after 10 of the pregnancies; 4 resulted in a referral to PT. Forty-one women reported urinary incontinence: 11 (26.8%) were referred to PT, and 2 to pelvic floor PT. Nineteen women experienced a documented relapse during pregnancy and/or postpartum: 11 received a PT referral, and 4 attended PT.


While women with MS recorded at least 1 PT-amenable symptom during or following 75.4% of their pregnancies, only 28% of these were referred to PT - and only a third attended PT. Of significance was the 4.9% referral rate for pelvic floor PT in postpartum women with a record of urinary incontinence. Pelvic floor PT is a mainstay of general postpartum care in many European countries. These data illustrate critical gaps in rehabilitation referral, access and use at the intersection of neurological conditions and pregnancy in a large US-based MS clinic. They lend support for quality improvement efforts to improve care pathways and for telerehabilitation innovations to reduce barriers to access and improve synergistic care between PT, MD and urologic care.

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