Some people seek massage therapy to reduce stress and anxiety. Others may want to ease pain or aid recovery from an illness or injury. You might want massage therapy just to loosen up and escape the pressures of the day.
People with multiple sclerosis (MS) might seek massage therapy for the same reasons.
During a massage, the therapist manually manipulates your soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue. This can relax tense muscles, improve circulation, and help you feel less stressed.
While it doesn’t treat the disease, massage therapy might be able to help with some of your MS symptoms.
Read on to learn more about massage for MS, including its benefits and risks.
Massage therapy can’t cure MS or change the course of the disease. But for some people with MS, massage therapy can be helpful in easing certain symptoms and improving overall quality of life.
MS is different for each person who has it. The potential benefits of massage therapy will also vary from person to person.
Some MS symptoms that might improve with massage are:
It can also help prevent pressure sores, boost your mood, and improve physical and social functioning.
In 2016, a small study found that massage therapy was safe and beneficial in managing pain and fatigue in people with MS. Participants were given massage therapy once a week for six weeks. The study authors said that decreasing pain and fatigue may help to improve quality of life.
Another small study published in 2014 concluded that massage was safe and may help people with MS manage the stress of their symptoms. Participants reported that they felt an improvement in their overall well-being due to massage. The authors noted that this benefit could be from pain relief, the social interaction involved with massage, or a combination of both.
A small 2013 study of people with MS indicated that massage therapy could be more effective than exercise therapy in reducing pain. And combining massage therapy with exercise therapy may be even more helpful.
While these studies are all promising, they’ve all been very small. Larger long-term studies are needed to fully understand the benefits of massage for MS. But none of these studies have found any major risks, so it’s worth trying if you’re interested.
According to the American Massage Therapy Association, Swedish massage is the most common type of massage. It involves long, gliding strokes, kneading, and compression. It can also include shaking movements, deep movements using the thumbs or fingertips, and quick tapping of the muscles.
Your massage therapist may also use reiki, a technique that uses a light, noninvasive touch. This may help to put you in a state of deep relaxation. Massage therapists can also create a peaceful atmosphere using lighting, music, and aromatherapy.
There are many other forms of massage, bodywork, and movement therapies that can help with MS symptoms, including:
- Acupressure. A practitioner uses their fingers to stimulate certain parts of your body. It’s similar to acupuncture but doesn’t involve needles.
- Shiatsu. This is a practice that uses the fingers, thumbs, and palms to apply pressure to specific areas of your body.
- Alexander technique. This is a type of therapy that helps you to move mindfully and correct habits that put strain on your body.
- Feldenkrais method. This uses gentle movements to help ease strain on muscles and joints.
- Rolfing. Deep pressure is applied to realign the body.
- Trager approach. This technique uses a combination of light massage and gentle exercises to improve posture and movement.
Most people with MS are heat sensitive, though others are more sensitive to cold. Stay away from any methods that involve hot tubs or therapeutic baths. These can make MS symptoms worse for some people.
It’s usually safe for people with MS to have massage therapy.
Talk to your doctor before trying massage therapy if you have:
You should also check in with your doctor first if you:
- have recently been injured
- have recently had surgery
- are pregnant
- are experiencing a relapse
These factors don’t mean that you can’t try massage, but your doctor might advise you to take some extra precautions or avoid certain types.
While massage therapy might not seem like traditional medicine, it’s still important to make sure it’s done by someone qualified. Regulations regarding massage therapy differ from state to state. Check your state's licensing board to learn what’s required in your state.
Here are a few ways to find a massage therapist:
- Ask your primary care physician.
- Ask your neurologist to recommend massage therapists who are familiar with MS.
- Ask friends and family for recommendations.
- Use the American Massage Therapy Association’s searchable database.
- Check out the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals’ searchable database.
Consider your personal preferences. Does it matter to you if your therapist is male or female? Do they practice in a location that’s convenient for you?
Here are some other things to discuss before scheduling a massage:
- qualifications of the massage therapist
- all of your health issues
- type of therapy desired
- cost and length of each session
- whether your health insurance will cover the treatment
Talk about your expectations. Be specific about what you hope to get out of it so your therapist can tailor therapy to your needs. For example, they might use different techniques to address pain or muscle stiffness than they would if you want to focus on stress reduction. This is a common conversation for massage therapists, so you don’t feel uncomfortable bringing it up.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel immediate relief after a session. You may have to try a few massage therapists and techniques before you find what works best for you.
Massage therapy won’t cure or change the course of your MS. But it can help to ease some of your symptoms and improve your quality of life. If it does nothing more than help you destress and relax, that might be worth it for you. Check in with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for your symptoms, and ask for tips on finding a good therapist in your area.