Symptom Management

Massage and MS

By Chris Hudspeth
When you hear “massage,” what comes to mind? Many people think of going to a spa, lying on a massage table, and spending a carefree hour in full relaxation and bliss. Other people may think of a loved one kneading away their tension after a long day. Still others may think of a physical therapist working to relieve pain from an injury.
All of these types of massage have benefits. But massage is more than a way to pamper yourself, or to recover from stress or injury. Research has shown that therapeutic massage can bolster the immune system, improve mood, and relieve depression and anxiety. A pilot study specifically looking at massage therapy for MS found that it can help alleviate MS fatigue and pain, which can improve quality of life with the disease.
What is Massage Therapy?
Massage therapy is the use of massage to enhance health and well-being. Today, this type of therapy is typically delivered by a trained professional who is certified in the practice. Massage therapists can be found in hospitals, wellness centers, and a variety of other settings. Some even make house-calls.
The practice of massage as a form of healthcare goes back thousands of years, across many different cultures. Over the years, this has developed into many styles or types of massage: Swedish, Thai, Shiatsu, deep tissue, sports, prenatal, gentle, etc. Your health needs, sensitivities, and openness to touch all play a factor in how you receive a massage. What is most important is to find a type and therapist that suits you and your needs. Finding someone who works well with you and listens can be more important than the particular type of massage.

If you are pregnant, have a bleeding disorder, have had recent surgery, or have been ill, please check with your doctor and therapist before beginning any type of massage therapy.
Choosing a Therapist
Ask for referrals in your area for people who specialize in MS or health-based massage therapy. Heat intolerance, numbness, and other MS symptoms can affect how you react to touch. The facility’s temperature, accessibility, and any other personal concerns you may have should be considered when deciding from whom and where to receive a massage.

Communication is key. Talk to your partner, your doctor, friends, and family to assist in finding a person who best suits your needs.  And when you find one, talk to your new therapist about your concerns. People who are particularly sensitive to touch or have spasticity and muscle tension may wish to start out with only gentle massage techniques and work up to more vigorous approaches.
At Your Session
Massage therapists are just that: therapists. Take a few minutes before each session to tell the therapist how you are feeling, not just physically, but also emotionally. Because our bodies hold tension, shoulder or neck strain, for example, might not solely be caused by something physical. It does help a therapist to be aware of anything underlying emotionally, as well as anything physical that might be causing soreness.
There might be a place on your body that is very sensitive or sore, possibly after receiving an infusion, from exertion, or as a result of an injury. Please let your therapist know before you begin your session. Also, while receiving the massage, make sure to communicate with the therapist so they can adjust what they are doing and not cause you any pain or discomfort.
If during your session you feel unwell or uncomfortable, alert your therapist immediately. You won’t hurt their feelings. Good, well-trained therapists are alert and can feel when you tense up. They might ask you questions. It is most important to be honest and make them aware of any sensations you get. You are in a vulnerable space when on a massage table. It requires trust and not just your trust. It also helps when the therapist can trust you are sharing how you are feeling with them. 
Massage is like a passive form of exercise for your muscles. Just like working out and exercising, the first time or two might be followed by some slight soreness the next day. After a couple of sessions, our muscles typically become more pliable and adapt to being manipulated.
Make note of how you feel after the massage and the following days, and share this with your massage therapist. The goal of massage therapy is to improve your wellness, so help your therapist know what is working and what isn’t by observing any differences you feel.