Exercise is important for keeping our bodies healthy no matter what disease we may have, but it is especially important if you have MS. Exercise can help to combat some MS symptoms by improving endurance and stamina, cognitive function, strength and flexibility, pulmonary function, fatigue, psychological health and overall well being.
But did you know that massage therapy may be as effective as exercise therapy in combating certain MS symptoms?
I recently came across an article published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation titled "Massage therapy and exercise therapy in patients with multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled pilot study." Researchers at the Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation Research Center at Ahvaz Jundishapur University in Ahvaz, Iran, chose to investigate the comparative effects of massage therapy and exercise therapy on pain, fatigue, spasticity, balance, gait and quality of life in patients with MS. The secondary aim was to investigate whether a combination of both massage and exercise had an additive effect.
In the study, 48 persons diagnosed with relapsing-remitting or secondary progressive MS were randomly assigned to one of four subgroups labeled as massage therapy, exercise therapy, combined massage-exercise therapy and the control group which received neither massage nor exercise. Pain, fatigue, spasticity, balance, gait and quality of life were assessed before and after receiving five weeks of the assigned treatment. Patients who had participated in any prior physical therapy programs were excluded.
Patients assigned to the treatment groups received three 30-minute sessions of supervised intervention (Swedish massage, exercise, or a combination of both) per week for five consecutive weeks, in addition to regular medical care. The focus of both massage and exercise interventions was on the lower extremities due to the characteristics and needs of this particular group of patients whose EDSS scores ranged from 2 to 6.
The exercise therapy group was given a combined set of strength, stretch, endurance and balance training exercises including straight leg raising, forward lunge, hip adductor and calf muscles stretching, walking on a treadmill, cycling and balance board training. Patients in the massage-exercise therapy group received a combined set of Swedish massage (15 minutes) and exercise (15 minutes) treatments. Patients in the control group were asked to continue their standard medical care."¨
Results of this study showed that both massage therapy and exercise therapy independently, improved fatigue, spasticity, balance, walking endurance, and quality of life in patients with MS. Greater improvements in pain reduction, dynamic balance, and walking speed were seen in the massage therapy group as compared to the exercise group. No significant differences were observed between improvements in the massage therapy group as compared to the combined massage-exercise group. Patients in the exercise group did not report a reduction in pain.
The researchers concluded that massage therapy could be more effective than exercise therapy in improving certain common symptoms of MS. They also noted that the combination of massage and exercise therapy may be a little more effective than exercise therapy alone.
Now this doesn’t mean we should give up going to the gym on a regular basis, but it does indicate that massage can be used as another way to fight against MS.
Negahban H, Rezaie S, Goharpey S. Massage therapy and exercise therapy in patients with multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled pilot study. Clinical Rehabil. 2013 Jul 4. [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1177/0269215513491586. Accessed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23828184
Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.