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Multiple Sclerosis and Massage Therapy

Massage is a style of bodywork therapy and one of the most common of them all. It’s a therapy that has been around for millennia – approximately since around 3000 BC. It was used in Ancient China by monks as a way of maintaining good health. The Ancient Greeks used is as a treatment for war and sports injuries. Modern day massage is an amalgamation of these two principles. Massage is now used to relax tense muscles, relieve sore joints, reduce stress and promote a calm sense of mind.

Massage is a versatile therapy – it can be used to treat or ease the symptoms of various conditions. It’s used by some people to relieve them of the pain and musculoskeletal symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Massage is frequently paired with aromatherapy.

About multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most distressing and frustrating diseases of our time. It usually targets people between the ages of 20 and 40, those who are in the prime of youth. It causes havoc on their bodies and attacks their lives. While the symptoms can be controlled, there is currently no cure. Scientists have not yet isolated the cause either, although it’s believed there are multiple factors responsible. MS is a chronic neurological condition in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. The immune system attacks the myelin sheaths surrounding the nerve fibres and leaves scars. This damage then interrupts the function of parts of the nervous system, affecting communication and resulting in physical, mental and psychiatric issues. Symptoms include double vision, blindness, muscle weakness, reduced sensation and trouble with coordination.

No two cases of MS are alike and symptoms can vary from day to day. Between attacks, symptoms of the disease can vanish all together, but as it advances, permanent neurological issues usually remain. This boils down to the disease’s core process – it’s an unpredictably random attack of the immune system on the myelin sheaths and this leads to damage of the nerve axon.

In his book about massage therapy, Dr Kalyani Premkumar said: “Conduction across the affected neuron is typically slowed. Sometimes spontaneous firing may be seen. Conduction may be altered by changes in body temperature and metabolic environment, explaining the characteristic changes in function from hour to hour. Inflammatory lesions and scars due to MS are scattered throughout the brain. The symptoms vary according to the area and extent of the brain and spinal cord affected.”

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Can massage therapy work?

 While scientists are working to improve treatments and searching for a cure, MS patients are desperate to find a little paradise of relief with whatever is available to them. As well as traditional treatments like medication, they are turning increasingly to alternative medicine. Dr Allen C Bowling wrote a book about this. Titled Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis, discussed the myriad of non-traditional therapies that were available for those with MS. It raised awareness of the wide range of treatments that were available and that it wasn’t limited to just prescription medications and surgery. Many were highly effective, low risk and very cost effective. Massage therapy was one of these examples.

Can massage therapy boost mood for MS patients?

Various studies have examined this effectiveness. Research conducted in 1998 at the University of Miami’s School of Medicine investigated whether MS patients benefited from massage therapy in any way. 24 adults with MS were randomly split into two groups – one that received massage therapy and one that received a standard medical treatment plan (control group). The massage group received biweekly 45 minute massage for five weeks. Immediately after the first session, the massage group reported experiencing lower anxiety and a boosted mood. By the end of the study, their self-esteem had greatly improved – they had better body image, better idea of disease progression and better social functional status. In contrast, the control group saw little to no change.

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There are recent studies to support the effectiveness of massage therapy on improving the mood and morale of MS patients. Finch and Bessonnette conducted a study in 2014 to examine how massage affects the self-efficacy of MS patients. Self-efficacy is the belief that one can cope competently in a difficult situation. Published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy, the study involved 15 people with MS. They were split into two groups – one control and one that received weekly one hour long massage sessions over an eight week period. Self-efficacy was measured using a Multiple Sclerosis Self-Efficacy survey (MSSE) assessed before the first treatment, mid-treatment series, after the last treatment, four weeks after the last treatment and eight weeks after the last treatment had taken place. Not only did the study look at the immediate effects of massage therapy – it also looked at the potential long-term benefits.

It was found that those who received massage had increased self-efficacy levels mid-treatment (four weeks into the series) and this was maintained four weeks after the treatment ended. However, there was no difference eight weeks after the treatment ended, which suggested that the massage needed to be regular and continuous in order to maintain the effect. In contrast, there was little to no change in self-efficacy levels in the control group. The researchers then concluded that massage increased self-efficacy and self-efficacy in turn led to an improved mental wellbeing, a boost in morale and feeling as though they can cope with MS much better.

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Can massage therapy improve quality of life?

 Multiple sclerosis is a chronic lifelong condition that is unpredictable and tends to get worse over time. Medications can slow or stop the progression, but these may not necessarily improve the quality of life for an MS sufferer. Massage therapy is a relaxing, non-invasive treatment that is known for its therapeutic benefits. In 2014, researchers at University of Saskatchewa in Canada investigated the effects of massage on MS patients’ quality of life and leg function. 24 people with MS received Swedish massage for four weeks. Exercise capacity and leg function were assessed using the Six Minute Walk Test (6MWT), and quality of life was assessed using the Hamburg Quality of Life (HAQUAMS). These were measured before and after the massage session. No significant changes were found in the 6MWT and HAQUAMS, but the patients reported feeling improvements in their overall health and were able to handle their stress of their symptoms much better.

(read more about this here:

In short, massage therapy is a safe, non-invasive and highly therapeutic form of treatment that may help MS patients deal with the symptoms of their condition. Massage therapy is known for its healing effects on the mind and can help improve mood, reduce anxiety and decrease the risks of depression. It seems massage is a highly versatile form of treatment that can be safely integrated into a daily regime and help to improve overall quality of life.

Read more about massage treating illness in my older post: Massage The complimentary treatment for Epilepsy

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