Massage therapy can’t cure MS or change the course of the disease. But for some people with MS, massage therapy can help ease some symptoms and improve their quality of life.

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.

According to a 2018 study, massage therapy is one of the top three complementary medicine options for treating people living with MS.

Read on to learn more about massage for MS, including its benefits and risks.

MS affects everyone differently. The potential benefits of massage therapy can also vary by individual.

Some MS symptoms that might improve with massage are:

  • spasticity
  • pain
  • fatigue
  • poor circulation
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression

Massage can also help prevent pressure sores, boost your mood, and improve physical and social functioning.

A 2022 study has found that massage therapy can significantly reduce fatigue, pain, and spasms related to MS.

A 2020 study also found that massage therapy may help reduce MS-related fatigue and edema. Still, consider asking your doctor about massage if you have edema. Some techniques may not be safe, depending on the cause.

Another 2022 meta-analysis of 12 studies concluded that massage may help people with MS manage anxiety and depression resulting from their symptoms.

None of these studies has found significant risks, so it’s worth trying if you’re interested.

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 put you in a state of deep relaxation. Massage therapists can also create a peaceful atmosphere using lighting, music, and aromatherapy.

Many other types of massage, bodywork, and movement therapies can help with MS symptoms, including:

  • Acupressure: A practitioner uses their fingers to stimulate parts of your body. The theory behind acupressure is similar to that of acupuncture, but it involves only finger pressure.
  • Shiatsu: This practice uses the fingers, thumbs, and palms to apply pressure to specific areas of your body.
  • Alexander technique: This type of therapy helps you to move mindfully and correct habits that put a strain on your body.
  • Feldenkrais method: This method uses gentle movements to help ease the strain on muscles and joints.
  • Rolfing: This type involves deep pressure used to realign the body.
  • Trager approach: This technique uses light massage and gentle exercises to improve posture and movement.

Most people with MS are heat sensitive, though others are more sensitive to cold. A doctor may recommend you avoid methods that involve hot tubs or therapeutic baths. These can worsen MS symptoms for some people.

Some people may also practice self-massage at home. This typically involves using your hands, a tennis ball, a foam roller, or another tool to gently massage areas of tension. You may want to speak with a doctor before trying self-massage. Some types of massage may not be safe for people with MS and could potentially lead to injury.

It’s usually safe for people with MS to have massage therapy. Talk with your doctor before trying massage therapy if you have:

  • osteoporosis
  • arthritis
  • edema
  • ulcers
  • enlarged liver or spleen
  • heart disease
  • cancer

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 you can’t try massage, but a doctor might advise you to take extra precautions or avoid some types.

Regulations for massage therapy differ by state, so it’s essential to be sure your massage therapist is qualified. 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 whether your therapist is male or female? Do they practice in a location that’s convenient for you?

Some other factors to discuss before scheduling a massage include:

  • 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 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.

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.

Read on for answers to additional questions about massage and MS.

What type of massage is best for MS?

There is not one type of massage that is best for all people living with MS. The type of massage you get can depend on your preferences, how MS affects your body, and your doctor’s recommendation.

Why is it important to find a massage therapist who’s familiar with MS?

Overworking the tissues can leave a person with MS feeling bruised and fatigued. Also, many massage therapists use hydrotherapy applications, such as hot packs, which may not be appropriate for a person with MS.

MS symptoms and response to massage therapy treatment may differ from person to person and even for the same individual at different times. It’s important to see a massage therapist who can assess your needs and responses and adjust accordingly.

Who else can help you manage multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Neurologists specialize in managing conditions that affect the brain and nervous system, such as MS.

You may also want to see a psychologist, licensed professional counselor, or clinical social worker to help you with emotional and psychological challenges resulting from MS. Depending on your specific symptoms, other medical professionals that can help include:

  • physical therapists
  • occupational therapists
  • speech pathologists
  • ophthalmologists
  • urologists

In addition, you may also work with an acupuncturist. A meta-analysis of 31 studies found this therapy, along with traditional treatment, to be beneficial in improving MS symptoms.

Can eating specific foods help relieve MS symptoms?

There’s no special diet for MS, but an eating plan low in saturated fat and high in fiber can benefit your overall health. A dietitian can provide a personalized eating plan to ensure you get the recommended nutrients.

They can also advise on which foods can increase inflammation, such as processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol.

Massage therapy won’t cure or change the course of MS, but it may help ease some of your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

If it does nothing more than help you de-stress and relax, that might be worth it for you. Check with a doctor to ensure it’s safe for your symptoms, and ask for tips on finding a good local therapist.