Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive and disabling disease that greatly impinges on quality of life. Unfortunately, symptoms don’t go away, and currently, there is no cure. It’s not all bad news though: various treatments and medications are available to help manage the condition and researchers continue to explore ways of treating and providing therapies for those with MS.
Human touch can have a profound effect on health, with researchers believing that it may even promote healing. In addition to the feel-good benefits of touch, massage therapy also provides great relaxation and stress relief, along with helping to free up and elongate muscles, increase range of movement, and improve blood circulation.
A recently commenced research study, to be carried out at Shepherd Centre in Atlanta in the US, is looking to investigate whether regular massage therapy can improve pain, spasticity and therefore overall quality of life among individuals with MS. This trial will be the first to see how massage may influence the above measures in MS. Consisting of only 25 participants, individuals will receive standardised one-hour massages, once a week for six weeks during the trial.
As the symptoms of MS don’t go away, they can exacerbate the sufferer’s disability over time and dramatically affect quality of life. MS affects the central nervous system; the immune system starts to attack the myelin sheath that covers the nerves, which in turn disrupts the communication between the brain and the body. The effects are generally debilitating and painful.
It is estimated that 30% to 90% of MS sufferers report pain, with most having spasticity that is disruptive to daily function. The objective of the study is to see if the pain and spasticity levels for MS sufferers can be lessened through massage therapy, as well as monitoring quality of life before and after the treatments.
“While massage cannot cure MS, researchers say it holds promise to manage solutions.”
Shepherd Centre, Atlanta.
Individuals interviewed in the study, which won’t be complete until the end of 2015, report extreme pain and tightness in various parts of their body; for example, exceedingly tight calf muscles that limit range of motion and function in the legs. Researchers stated that massage therapy was an attractive complimentary therapy to explore, as it also offered mental and emotional benefits, along with the physical benefits.
“MS can be very stressful for patients because they don’t always know what’s coming next,” said Deborah Backus, PhD, Director of MS Research at Shepherd Centre and the study’s principal investigator. “This type of study helps us look at the whole person because the patient might be on the right medication and be physically fine…But if they are stressed out, it’s going to affect their health.”
This study is hoping to clarify the advantages and purpose of massage for MS sufferers, such as to:
- quantify the benefits of massage,
- prove that massage therapy does not harm MS sufferers, and
- advance ongoing efforts for the improvement of health and wellness for those with MS.
It is hoped that if the study shows promising results, massage therapy will become a complimentary treatment that is made more accessible to MS sufferers throughout their lives. Clinical proof of the efficacy of massage therapy may also help those with MS claim for such treatment with insurance funds in the future.
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