Massages could benefit patients with multiple sclerosis

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Shavonne Thurman was in her twenties when numbness in her abdomen and double vision sent her to the doctor. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis which has slowly progressed.

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic disease affecting the central nervous system. People with MS can have fatigue, muscle pain or weakness and difficulty with motion.

“It comes, it goes, you never know. You just wake up and it’s like, today my legs don’t want to work,” said Thurman.

Thurman is taking part in a clinical trial testing the effects of massage on MS patients.

Christina Manella, PT, Massage Therapist at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia said, “In MS in particular, the myelin around your nerves is affected. So it sets up a feedback loop that makes your muscles tighten that’s not under your control.”

For this study, therapists are using Swedish massage techniques which are long, even strokes that are easy to reproduce. Twenty-five patients will receive therapy once a week for six weeks.

Researchers want to measure the impact of massage on spasticity, which is involuntary muscle tightness.

“How long you feel the effect is going to be different for each person,” Manella explained.

Deborah Backus, PT, PhD, Director of Multiple Sclerosis Research at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia also wants to know if massage helps patients manage the stress of having a chronic disease.

“With MS it’s been shown that the fatigue and the pain is closely related with depression and psychological stress, which really impacts the quality of life,” said Dr. Backus.

Researchers at the Shepherd Center say there has been little prior research evaluating the use of massage therapy in MS, although the benefits of massage on patients with other diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome have been established.

Thurman said, “The massages helped to relax and clear my body so I wasn’t stressed for the rest of the day.”

Many health insurance plans do not cover massage for MS or other chronic diseases, but researchers are hoping that further studies may help change that.


REPORT: MB #3935

BACKGROUND: There are more than 400,000 people in the United States living with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS. MS is a disease of the nervous system and is more common in females than males. The signs of MS typically start to appear around age 30. In MS, the body's immune system attacks the protective covering, called myelin, of your nerves. This impairs the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. In severe cases, patients lose the ability to walk. Other symptoms of MS include numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, slurred speech, blurred vision, tremor, fatigue and dizziness. Sometimes, the disease goes into remission, and the patient has no new symptoms for a time.
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TREATMENT: There is no known cure for MS, but there are therapies that can help reduce the effects of the disease. MS can be debilitating, but it is rarely fatal. Some of the possible treatments of MS include:
* Corticosteroids
* Plasma exchange
* Beta interferons
* Physical therapy
* Muscle relaxants
* Glatiramer acetate
* Immunosuppressant drugs

NEW TECHNOLOGY: A new clinical trial is showing that massage may also be added to that list of treatments in the future. The trial involves using Swedish massage techniques on patients with MS for one hour weekly for six weeks. "MS can be very stressful for patients because they don't always know what's coming next," Christina Manella, PT, LMT, therapy manager in Shepherd Center's MS Institute said in a press release for the institute. "This type of study helps us look at the whole person because a patient might be on the right medication and be physically fine based on [functional brain] MRIs, but if they are stressed out, it's going to affect their health."


Katie Malone