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It’s important for patients to manage their expectations when it comes to massage therapy for multiple sclerosis. It’s not going to change the course of the disease but it can help with relief.

Multiple sclerosis presents a host of troubles for patients, particularly with degeneration of the central nervous system (CNS) that leads to issues with mobility. Many symptoms can be painful or debilitating, and some are based on permanent damage that can’t be restored. Most treatments for MS are about management rather than restoration, since most of the damage can’t be fixed or reversed, and there is no cure for the disease.

Aside from the medically prescribed treatments, though, patients often turn to complementary and alternative medical practices that assist in controlling or at least managing a number of the symptoms. One such method is massage. How can massage help treat multiple sclerosis symptoms? There are three particular ways in which massage is useful for MS patients.


Massage for tension relief

One of the major symptoms of multiple sclerosis is stiffness, especially in the legs and back. This is a complication or nerve damage, with lack of mobility stimulation as well as lack of autonomic functions like blood flow working properly. It can also be a side effect of pain in motion that causes the patient not to get up and move as they normally would.

Massage can help relieve some of the tension in the muscles, allowing for ease of motion, which will also often stimulate greater blood flow. Tension relief also reduces symptoms like headache and neck pain, which are often caused by the stiffness in the muscles and the inability to stretch and relieve that stress properly.

Massage for pain and inflammation

Many of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis are caused by inflammation in the CNS, much of which gathers in and around the spinal cord. Of course, this can also lead to swelling and edema elsewhere in the body, which can cause additional pain and inhibit mobility even further.

Massage works in several ways to help relieve pain and inflammation. Pain relief often comes with the release of tension in the muscles, as well as release of fluid related to inflammation. Endorphins are also released during massages, a chemical in the brain that helps to alleviate pain.

Some massage techniques use a light motion to help move the fluid and swelling out of the affected area and back into the natural flow of the body’s system. Similar techniques can assist with increased blood flow and oxygenation to the muscles and tendons, which also reduce instances of pain and inflammation.

Massage for nerve stimulation

Because the central nervous system is damaged and doesn’t always send proper signals in patients with multiple sclerosis, nerves in other parts of the body can atrophy, which reduces sensation and ability to function. This can lead to less mobility, greater pain, and numbness that makes ambulation a problem.

Specific massage techniques have been used to stimulate nerves that don’t receive as many impulses to keep them functional. This assists in maintaining muscle mass, which could otherwise suffer, as well as the potential for improvement should the brain develop new neuropathways that can again send signals to these nerve endings and control the muscles more fully.

Other benefits of massage

Massage is a great option for other reasons, as well. While science has not studied the effects of massage on multiple sclerosis intensively, both people dealing with the disease personally as well as professionals have seen differences between patients who actively seek out massage therapy and those who don’t.

Some additional benefits include:

  • Better quality of sleep
  • Greater retention of muscle tone
  • Greater awareness of the body and its needs
  • Less fatigue based on stimulation of peripheral nerves
  • More regular bowel movements

Precautions when seeking massage therapy

While massage can help tremendously with a patient’s symptoms, there are precautions that should be taken when seeking out this kind of therapy for multiple sclerosis. In particular, it’s essential to stay in contact with the treating physician so that both patient and doctor are aware of changes based on the massage treatments.

It’s also crucial to remember that:

  • Massage is not a proven method of treatment for multiple sclerosis, and individual benefits can and will vary between patients
  • Speaking to the treating doctor first will make the patient aware of any underlying conditions that could mean massage therapy is not a good option for their particular case
  • While massage is usually well tolerated by MS patients, some pain and soreness can ensue following a round of treatment
  • Because there is no protocol for massage treatment of multiple sclerosis symptoms, it’s vital to find a therapist who either has specialized training or who has experience in treating patients with MS to assure the greatest benefit and the least risk
  • Massage relaxes the muscles, which means that some patients may experience a degree of lethargy following a treatment that causes heaviness of the limbs and inability to move; a good massage therapist will learn quickly where the threshold is and make adjustments to the patient’s needs
  • Communication with the massage therapist can assist them in using the right techniques as well as keep the patient informed to share information with the managing physician
  • It could be detrimental to receive massages during a relapse, and appointments may need to be rescheduled
  • Sensitivity to heat and cold exacerbate symptoms of MS, so seeking out a massage therapist who knows how to control temperatures to assist with MS conditions is the best choice for treatment


It’s important for patients to manage their expectations when it comes to massage therapy for multiple sclerosis. It’s not going to change the course of the disease. In fact, it’s not likely to even slow the progression of it. However, because so many of the symptoms are related to the musculoskeletal system, massage therapy can alleviate a large number of continuous symptoms for those who have already progressed to constant problems, and it can help lessen symptoms in a relapse for those still having intermittent problems.

Taking the time to discuss it with a doctor could lead to some excess relief above and beyond standard treatment, as long as patients take care to watch for anything that could worsen rather than help their symptoms.

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