Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. MS manifests in different patterns of inflammation based on the location and levels of scarring, demyelination and axonal damage throughout the brain and spinal cord which leads to a wide range of symptoms. Damage occurs where the immune system attacks the myelin, a protective layer around nerve fibers. This inflammation, scar tissue and lesions to the nerves result in a wide range of symptoms. MS generally targets those between ages 20 and 40.
MS is ultimately a disease that results in the deterioration of the central nervous system because of inflammation. The symptoms of MS can significantly impact the quality of life for patients. Fatigue, pain and spasticity are the three major disruptive symptoms of those with MS.
Massage has long been shown to reduce fatigue and pain, as well as to reduce swelling and inflammation throughout the body and muscle tissues. Pain reduction is partly due to a reduction in stress, which exacerbates the pain, and partly due to the reduction of tension in muscle tissue and the increase of joint mobility. Massage therapy can help reduce pain by addressing both issues.
Swedish massage increases circulation by physically moving blood and fluid throughout the body, increasing circulation and brining fresh, oxygenated blood to muscle tissues. Increased capillary dilation through light stroking also increases the movement of lymphatic fluid, reducing swelling and inflammation. This increase in circulation can also aid in the reduction of pressure sores, which may occur when extreme fatigue results in lack of mobility. Massage has also been shown to help with reducing spasticity by relaxing the muscle and improving the range of motion of muscle and joints. Massage has also been shown to improve mood, improve body image and provide a sense of well-being, which is often in short supply in those who suffer with MS.
While there are many positive effects of massage therapy on those with MS, there are also some cautions and considerations to consider when working with this population. Because those with MS suffer from extreme fatigue, becoming too relaxed after a massage can literally mean not being able to get up off the table. Extreme fatigue can be exacerbated by the total relaxation of muscle tissue, leaving the MS sufferer unable to function.
The best modalities of massage therapy for use with MS sufferers are those that involve light to moderate pressure and/or which address reflexes without direct contact to the entire body.
Because the symptoms of each MS patient vary depending on the location and severity of the damage in their brain and spinal column, the massage therapy needs of each MS patient will vary as well. Massage therapists may have to use their knowledge and experience to blend several modalities together, creating the best therapeutic massage session possible for the individual MS client.