Good news for Multiple Sclerosis patients – Massage Therapy helps your inflammatory, fatigue, muscle spasticity, and motor control symptoms, with regular sessions! There are several manual techniques for addressing and improving the symptoms of MS with which a massage therapist can assist.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a condition where the myelin sheaths around the brain and spinal nerves of the central nervous system (CNS) are initially inflamed, then are gradually degenerated, causing symptoms such as fatigue, spasticity, eye pain, tremors, and progressive loss of vision, sensation, and motor control. This condition is diagnosed in about 8,800 new patients every year – about 350,000 cases are known in the United States.¹

Sclerosis is a hardening of the myelin sheath when it is replaced by a plaque or scar tissue. Electrical impulses that characterize the method by which the body communicates through the nerves are literally “short circuited” because of the inability of the plaque or scar tissue to conduct the impulses. Symptoms are more or less depending on how much of the sclerosis occupies the nervous system, where myelin sheaths used to be. The “short-circuiting” effect causes motor and sensory paralysis, which shows in the lack of motor control and feeling in the skin and other perceptive organs.

Massage Therapy is indicated in a sub-acute stage of MS – that is, when the symptoms are not heightened and when the patient is in a remissive state. It improves many aspects of the symptoms, like inflammation control and stress or depression symptoms. Heat is not indicated at any time, as heat is an agitator of muscle activity, causing spasm in any stage of MS. In areas where there is little or no sensation, light massage (effleurage) is indicated in order to affect the neurons and keep them firing.

The Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami has issued two studies that show that massage therapy improves specific conditions shown in MS patients.

The first study, conducted with 24 adults with MS over 5 weeks, receiving a 45-minute massage twice a week, resulted in “the massage group ha[ving] lower anxiety and less depressed mood immediately following the massage sessions, and by the end of the study they had improved self-esteem, better body image and image of disease progression, and enhanced social functioning.”²

The second study showed the effect of reflexology on 71 randomized MS patients: “Significant improvement in paresthesias, urinary symptoms and spasticity was detected in the reflexology group. Improvement with borderline significance was observed in muscle strength between the reflexology group and the controls. The improvement in the intensity of paresthesias remained significant at three months of follow-up.”³

Amazing results from using massage therapy gives hope to the MS patients suffering MS’s debilitating conditions. You may read more about the details of the TRI studies at the University of Miami or visit the National MS Society to learn more about how massage & bodywork are impacting the pain symptoms of MS patients.

¹Werner, Ruth (1998). Multiple Sclerosis. A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, 135-139.
²Hernandez-Reif, M., Field, T., & Theakston, H. (1998). Multiple sclerosis patients benefit from massage therapy. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 2, 168-174.
³Siev-Ner, I., Gamus, D., Lerner-Geva, L., & Achiron, A. (2003). Reflexology treatment relieves symptoms of multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled study. Mult Scler., 9, 356-61.
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