Massage is used by some people with multiple sclerosis for the relief of constipation, pain and musculoskeletal symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It can be relaxing and may help general well-being. Massage is often used in combination with aromatherapy.
In a research study of massage and MS, 24 people were randomly assigned to either a 45 minute massage twice weekly for five weeks or to no treatment. The massage group had significantly lower anxiety and a less depressed mood by the end of the study and had significantly improved in self-esteem, body image and image of disease progression. No conclusions however, were drawn about physical symptoms.
In study in 2014, 15 people with MS were split into two groups, one of which received weekly one hour therapeutic massage sessions. Self-efficacy, defined as the perception/belief that one can competently cope with a challenging situation, was assessed before and after treatment. It was found that those who received massage had increased self-efficacy at the end of four weeks of treatment and this was maintained four weeks after the treatment had ended. However, there was no difference eight weeks after treatment ended, suggesting that massage needs to be continued to maintain the effect. The researchers suggest that better self-efficacy could lead to improved psychological well-being and feeling better able to live with MS.
Bowel problems and massage
The AMBER study looked at whether abdominal massage and bowel care advice was more effective than bowel care advice alone in treating bowel problems in people with MS. People were treated for six weeks, and reported greater ease, less pain and more frequency in passing stools. A couple of participants reported additional benefits: improved appetite, feeling less bloated, decreased sluggishness and improved energy levels. Some were also able to stop taking laxatives.
Some participants felt the massage was not enough on its own and needed to be used in conjunction with laxatives or other forms of treatment, but 90% of the participants were still using abdominal massage themselves after the end of the study.
Complementary medicine: a nurses view
MS nurse Vicki Gutteridge looks at the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAMS) in managing multiple sclerosis
Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy tried by some people with MS, where essential oils are used to promote health, wellbeing and relaxation.
Relaxation techniques can be helpful in MS for managing fatigue, relieving stress and promoting better sleep. Here are some ideas for you to try.
The two main types of pain in multiple sclerosis are nerve (neuropathic) pain and musculoskeletal (nociceptive) pain. Find out more about pain in this A-Z entry.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) refers to treatments that are not widely in use in conventional medicine, such as acupuncture and yoga.
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Last reviewed: October 2018
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- Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy 1998;2(3):168-174. Multiple sclerosis patients benefit from massage therapy.
- Multiple Sclerosis 2003;9(5):461-6. Summary Predictors of alternative medicine use by multiple sclerosis patients.
- Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 2008;14(3):176-84. Summary Complementary therapy use by persons with multiple sclerosis: benefits and research priorities.
- Occupational Therapy International 2009;16(1):57-70. Summary A review of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by people with multiple sclerosis.
- Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy 2014;18(1):11-6. Summary A pragmatic investigation into the effects of massage therapy on the self efficacy of multiple sclerosis clients.