Multiple Sclerosis and Massage Therapy
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS) which affects 2.5 million people worldwide. Patients diagnosed with MS have deteriorating myelin, which is a protective sheath that covers nerve fibers, and allows for communication throughout the nervous system. Without myelin, the nerves may become damaged as well.
It is not fully known what the cause of MS is, though it is believed to be an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. The symptoms of MS vary in type and severity for each individual and commonly include pain, tremors, muscle stiffness, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, urinary issues, and tingling or numbness.
There is no known cure for MS. Depending on the type of MS, however, there may be some options for slowing its progression and managing symptoms. More details on several available therapies can be viewed here. These options should be discussed with a physician.
In addition to these therapies which may slow the progression of the disease, there are several options which can alleviate the signs & symptoms of MS. These include physical therapy, exercise, nutrition therapy, muscle relaxants, and massage therapy – which is what we’ll primarily be focusing on in this post. It’s important to note that massage therapy does not cure MS. However, it can be effective at managing symptoms and improving quality of life. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways it does that:
Massage therapy has an analgesic effect, reducing pain and inflammation. It does this through several known mechanisms, including reduced inflammatory cytokines and increased dopamine levels. Certain massage techniques can also be effective at treating muscle cramping and spasticity, as well as contractures and localized edema.
Massage therapy reduces the anxiety and depression that often accompanies MS. In fact, a 1998 study showed that patients who receive massage therapy had better self-esteem and a more positive outlook on their body and the disease. Patients with less reported stress also experience less exacerbations, or flare-ups.
Debilitating fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS. Massage therapy helps combat fatigue by increasing serotonin production, enabling better sleep quality. Healthy amounts of serotonin also contribute to melatonin production, which is a controlling factor in sleep cycles and energy levels. Patients who receive regular massage therapy report improved sleep and energy levels, resulting in greater activity and mobility.
Massage therapy is most effective in treating MS when treatments are more frequent, even if they are shorter in duration. Many studies supporting the efficacy of massage treatment for MS involved one or two 30-45 minute massages per week for just five weeks. Thus, massage is most effective when utilized as an ongoing complementary part of a treatment plan. Massage does have certain contraindications for MS patients, so before beginning any treatment plan, be sure to speak with your physician. If massage is right for you, prepare to share all relevant and current medical information with your therapist – sessions will be most effective when tailored to the specific needs of your body, which change frequently with conditions such as MS.
Exercise is an important part of managing MS as well, and inactivity can actually worsen the symptoms of MS. Staying active can reduce fatigue, increase strength and balance, and improve bladder and bowel control. The type of exercise depends on the individual, and can include walking, swimming, yoga, resistance training, and more. Our partners at MS Fitness Challenge specialize in exercise training for MS patients at the gym OptimalBody Personal Fitness in Murrieta, CA, and have been seeing incredible results. Studies have shown that massage therapy may be slightly more effective than exercise therapy, but the most powerful results come from a combination of the two. This is why we have decided to partner with MSFC, and are humbled for the opportunity to provide massage therapy to MS patients through their charity.