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Can Massage Therapy Help Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease affecting the central nervous system that can cause a wide range of symptoms, is becoming more and more prevalent. It is thought that over 2.3 million people worldwide are diagnosed with MS, with about 200 new cases cropping up in the United States every week. March happens to be MS Awareness Month which makes right now a great opportunity to become a little more educated on this disease, and whether massage therapy is a viable way to relieve some of the symptoms.

MS organizations like the National MS Society maintain that the way to really combat the effects, and possibly the progression, of this disease is through treatment with one of the FDA-approved disease-modifying drugs. However, MS can bring about a slew of symptoms that massage, or other wellness practices, can help relieve or lessen.

Spasticity – This symptom causing stiffness and/or involuntary muscle spasms in limbs is one of the most commonly experienced. Neurologists often prescribe medications, exercise, physical therapy, and daily stretching to relieve this symptom. Massage can play a role in relief as well, in that receiving regular massage can help reduce muscle stiffness and can increase circulation to the affected areas. Massage can help other spasticity treatments to be more effective by helping muscles be less sore or rigid.

Sadness and anxiety – Whether due to the unpredictability of MS, worry at what the future might hold, or sadness at the change and loss MS can bring, these feelings are very common with those diagnosed. While seeking professional medical help for feelings of depression is an important first step, massage can help complement the mental health treatment already in place. Massage can increase the “feel-good” hormone dopamine which regulates our sense of joy, enthusiasm, and inspiration. Massage also helps promote endorphins, oxytocin, and epinephrine which can all help promote feelings of euphoria.

Pain – Whether it’s pain from spasticity, pain in joints, knotted-up shoulders or back from stress, or an aching head or jaw, the pain relief that massage can bring is valuable and effective. Both the affected areas, as well as the compensating areas are at risk for pain and tightening. Massage can not only provide relief from pain in the body’s soft tissue, tendons, and muscles, but it can also help promote circulation to the area. Also, there are tremendous therapeutic benefits to simply being cared for and touched by a human hand. Massage is can be a comforting and effective method to help control pain.

Sleeping problems – sleep disturbances and MS seem to go hand-in-hand. Frequent trips to the bathroom, periodic limb movements (PLMS), or the aforementioned spasticity or pain can all prevent a restful night’s sleep. A vicious cycle can erupt, as the fatigue and stress caused by lack of sleep can trigger increased MS symptoms, leading to poorer sleep, and so on. Massage can help to promote more restful sleep by promoting the production of serotonin which helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm. Massage also reduces the stress hormone cortisol which, when elevated, can disrupt sleep.

With MS, it’s important to seek regular medical treatment from a neurologist for the most effective treatment possible. Make sure he or she agrees that massage therapy is a good complementary therapy option. And then go ahead and enjoy the relaxing, comforting, and effective benefits of massage.

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