Massage and MS
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a complex condition that currently affects approximately 400,000 people in the United States-with 200 more people diagnosed every week. This chronic disease causes uncomfortable, sometimes debilitating symptoms that can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks.
The exact causes of MS are not entirely understood, and there is currently no cure, though there have been many advances in treatment in recent years. Western medicine considers MS an autoimmune condition-a condition that occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. In the case of MS, the immune system starts attacking and breaking down a substance called myelin, the sheath that surrounds the nerve fibers of the central nervous system. Myelin increases the speed of the transmission of nerve signals.
When myelin becomes “broken” or destroyed, none impulses are slowed down, leading to a progression of nerve-related problems. When these nerve fibers become damaged, symptoms result, including :
- Blurred vision
- Loss of balance
- Poor coordination
- Slurred speech
- Memory problems
- Numbness or weakness of the limbs
MS usually has acute and subacute periods. Acute periods (aka flare ups) are times when the symptoms are at their worst; it is when the myelin is under attack. The signs and symptoms of MS depend on where and how much nerve tissue has been damaged.
When is massage appropriate?
Yes, during the subacute stages, massage is appropriate and even beneficial for individuals suffering from MS. Massage can help with common issues like stress reduction and depression. When working with a client who has MS, take the following precaution:
- Avoid over-stimulating client as this could result in uncontrollable muscle spasms
- Avoid heat; it may make symptoms worse especially symptoms of fatigue.
What type of massage is beneficial?
Because each individual experiences symptoms differently, it is difficult to pinpoint the best type of massage or to determine an optimal length for massage for an individual with MS. Swedish massage and reflexology have shown benefits for individuals with MS. Increased stress can exacerbate symptoms of MS. If sensation is present, massage can help to reduce feelings of stress. Massage can also help to maintain health and mobility of the tissues. If no sensation is present in certain areas, very light work or energy work may be more appropriate.
What can you do?
MS can have an impact on every part of your life. To help support both your physical and emotional well being, your practitioner may suggest some of these lifestyle changes and self-care techniques.
- Staying cool – Heat can make symptoms of MS worse. Tepid baths, cool drinks and air conditioning may help make you more comfortable.
- Exercise – Yoga and Qi Gong can help improve strength, balance and depression. Consider adding gentle aerobic exercise as well to improve your overall health and reduce stress.
- Stress relief – Stress can exacerbate symptoms and cause other health problems, so it’s important to keep your stress levels in check. If your anxiety becomes overwhelming, consider talking to a professional.
- Meditation or deep-breathing techniques can help you stay calm and relaxed.
- Massage is another great way to help relieve stress and loosen tense muscles.
MS is a serious condition, but many people with MS live long, happy, fulfilled lives.