Can Massage Help Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms?

Recently someone asked me if massage is beneficial to those living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).  Without hesitation, I can say that our clients with MS tell us that massage helps them feel better. However, can I give more specific information? Curiosity incited, I looked to see if there has been some new information in recent years. Turns out in Dec 2016 a new study was published. This study impressed me with detailed methodology and their choice of assessment tests.  Most exciting to me is seeing science supporting this 4000-year-old profession!! So here comes a hopefully simple explanation of the main findings.

This study (the first link below), looked at how massage might affect fatigue, pain, and spasticity in people living with MS. The 2 areas with direct improvement were a decrease in fatigue and a decrease in pain. Participants answers also showed an improvement in quality of life. It is surmised that as the pain and fatigue diminishes, the person sleeps better, and that leads to an improved quality of life. Another important note is that while not everyone had the same level of positive response, overall it was statistically significant, and there are no negative side effects with massage, as there can be with medications.

Spastic muscles were not specifically addressed in this study and while there was minimal change it is important to note that spasticity was not made worse. Other studies have focused on MS and spastic muscles, some of which demonstrated an improvement. Certainly, this is an area that needs more research.

The second study, from 2014, (the second link) specifically looked at walking distances and quality of life. What I found most significant in this study is that those with more severe symptoms improved more. Leaving the question of just who with MS benefits the most from massage? (more opportunity for research – but not by me.) Once again, most the participant responses indicated an overall improvement in quality of life, as in the first study.

These studies continue to support what clients have told us for many years – that many people with MS very often feel better using massage as part of their care. They also support past studies demonstrating improvement with massage. I believe it is well worth considering a trial of massage by people who have MS to find out for themselves.

Finally, all of this continues to support the general knowledge that if pain is decreased, sleep improves, leading to a better quality of life and this is what massage does. It bears repeating that massage has been around 4000 years for one reason – it works holistically, affecting the body, mind, and spirit (or energy as some prefer to say.) How nice to be able to answer my friend with historical, personal, and scientific knowledge!


Impact of Massage Therapy on Fatigue, Pain, and Spasticity in People with Multiple Sclerosis: a Pilot Study./
The Effects of Massage Therapy on Multiple Sclerosis Patients’ Quality of Life and Leg Function

How do you approach your health?

As I am sitting here reading some of my health publications several thoughts come to mind. The present article is talking about pain. The emphasis is on what medical doctors can do to alleviate specific types of pain such as headaches and back pain. Another publication has an article discussing how to stay healthy and active through what we eat, yet a third discusses how our attitude affects our health.  There are more, but suffice to say that all these articles approach health from only one perspective. Each is truly important and has its place in helping us stay active and free of pain in our daily life. What I wish each would end with is some statement to the effect of, “this approach is best when used with others techniques or approaches”. In other words a multimodal approach.

Simply put this means addressing the many complex aspects of our beings at the same time for the best outcome. This is routinely suggested for children with mental health diagnosis where it is well known that medicine alone rarely provides the best outcome. But medicine added with counseling and perhaps diet and exercise can greatly improve the outcomes. We are physical, spiritual and mental beings – ignoring one aspect of our life for long will guarantee some type of pain or dysfunction. Many of the health practices we have affect more than one of our “parts”. Eating right obviously helps the physical body, but when eating healthy means minimizing additives, it also improves our mood. When we meditate we clearly are taking care of our spiritual being, but it often improves our responses to daily interactions as well as may help lower blood pressure for some. So it seems that anything we do for one “part” will affect one or both of the other “parts”.  And so it is with massage; clearly it interrupts the pain cycle, relaxes the muscles, and by doing these it may well be lowering your blood pressure and helping to clear your mind. Feeling better definitely improves my responses to many daily situations. And there are so many other specifics that massage helps with. And we are always reminding our clients that this is just one of the many healthy steps they can and should be doing to be the best they can be! No wonder so many people, including myself, have incorporated massage into their health plan – it’s a win-win in the multimodal approach as there isn’t a negative side effect!