Massage may help alleviate some symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). However, it can pose a risk for some individuals. It is a good idea to consult a doctor before beginning massage therapy.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory auto-immune disease that causes the destruction of the protective myelin sheath surrounding the nerves. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including pain, muscle spasms, mobility problems, and fatigue. Massage may help to alleviate some of these symptoms.

This article outlines the different types of massage for MS, including their benefits, risks, and side effects. We also provide tips on how to find a massage therapist and list some questions to ask a doctor before receiving massage therapy.

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The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) notes that massage may help to prevent or alleviate certain symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), including pain and spasticity.

One popular form of massage in the United States that may be beneficial is Swedish massage, which combines the following traditional massage techniques:

  • Effleurage: Effleurage involves long, gliding massage strokes.
  • Petrissage: Petrissage involves kneading and compression combined with gentle lifting and squeezing of the skin.
  • Vibration: Vibration is a fine, rapid, shaking movement.
  • Friction: Friction is created via deep circular movements using the thumbs or fingertips.
  • Tapotement: Tapotement involves rapidly striking or tapping the muscles using alternate hands.
  • Reiki: Reiki is an alternative therapy in which the practitioner uses their hands to guide the flow of energy through the body to help promote healing.

Massage is a type of bodywork therapy. These are hands-on therapies that aim to improve the structure and function of the body and boost overall well-being.

Some other types of bodywork therapy that may benefit individuals living with MS include:

  • Acupressure: This technique involves using the fingers to apply pressure to different pressure points in the body.
  • Reflexology: Reflexology is similar to acupressure in that it involves applying pressure to designated areas of the body. However, reflexology focuses on the hands or feet.
  • Shiatsu: Shiatsu also involves applying pressure with the fingers. It aims to prevent illness by increasing circulation and restoring energy balance in the body.
  • Rolfing technique: The Rolfing technique involves applying deep pressure to the fascia, which are the sheaths that cover the muscles and internal organs. This form of massage aims to correct body alignment.
  • Feldenkrais technique: The Feldenkrais technique involves correcting habits that put excess strain on the muscles and joints. The aim is to make movement easier and more efficient.
  • Alexander technique: This is a type of movement therapy that helps to correct habits that underlie bad posture and movement. It aims to reduce muscle strain and tension throughout the body.
  • Trager technique: This technique involves a combination of gentle and rhythmic touch, and exercises to help relieve tension associated with posture and movement.

People typically use massage to:

  • relax the muscles
  • reduce stress
  • relieve conditions that involve muscle tension

For people with MS, massage may help to prevent or alleviate certain symptoms, including:

  • Spasticity: Massage may help to relax the muscles and increase range of motion.
  • Pain: Massage can help reduce swelling and mobilize body tissues, resulting in a reduction in pain.
  • Anxiety: A massage session can provide pleasurable stimulation and a chance to relax, thereby helping alleviate anxiety.
  • Poor circulation: Friction from a massage increases blood flow through veins near the skin’s surface, while petrissage increases circulation through the deeper veins and arteries. In addition, light stroking increases dilation of the capillaries, which are among the smallest blood vessels in the body. Collectively, these techniques help address poor circulation.
  • Pressure sores: Massage may help prevent pressure sores. However, a person should not receive massage on areas that already have pressure sores or redness from inflammation.
  • Constipation: According to the United Kingdom’s Multiple Sclerosis Trust (MST), abdominal massage encourages movement of stool through the gut, helping to alleviate constipation.

A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis found that massage therapy interventions were associated with reduced pain and fatigue among people living with MS.

A 2022 systematic review suggests that different types of massage could be beneficial for different MS symptoms. The authors found that Swedish massage could help to alleviate pain and fatigue, while reflexology could help to alleviate anxiety and depression.

An earlier 2016 review notes that massage may yield more beneficial effects than exercise for a person with MS, especially if the person finds exercise too exhausting.

Although massage can be beneficial for people living with MS, it also poses some risks.

People with the following conditions should consult a doctor before receiving massage therapy:

  • Edema: Edema is swelling due to a buildup of excess fluid in the body. This condition can sometimes indicate heart or kidney problems, so a person should talk with their doctor to establish the cause before receiving massage therapy.
  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a bone disease that weakens the bones. People with osteoporosis need to be careful with massage therapy, as their bones can break more easily. Individuals with MS tend to have lower bone density than the general population, which makes them more susceptible to fractures.

According to the NMSS, people should also consult a doctor about the safety of massage if they are pregnant or have any of the following:

A person can use the free massage therapist locator on the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) website to search for a qualified massage therapist.

People can also search for a massage therapist who specializes in a specific type of massage. For example, people can find a Feldenkrais practitioner through the Feldenkrais Guild of North America or a Trager practitioner through the United States Trager Association.

A person can also ask their doctor for recommendations.

It’s important that a person with MS check with their doctor to determine whether massage is safe for them.

Questions a person may want to ask their doctor include:

  • Is massage safe for me?
  • Which type of massage should I choose?
  • How often should I have a massage?
  • Can you recommend a massage therapist who is familiar with working with people with MS?
  • What other lifestyle changes can I make to help with symptom relief and prevention?

Massage may be a beneficial add-on or adjuvant therapy for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Research indicates that it may help prevent or alleviate the physical symptoms of MS, such as pain, spasticity, and poor circulation. It may also help alleviate stress and anxiety.

There are various types of massage a person with MS may want to consider, including Swedish massage, acupressure, and reflexology.

However, certain conditions may make massage unsafe for a person with MS. Examples include edema, osteoporosis, and ulceration or enlargement of the liver or spleen.

As such, a person should speak to their doctor to help ensure a particular type of massage is safe for their individual condition.