Multiple Sclerosis: Can Massage Therapy Boost Quality of Life?

A study finds that massages may improve fatigue, pain symptoms in MS patients.

Massage therapy can be a safe and beneficial intervention for the management of fatigue and pain for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the results of a new study.

Researchers from Atlanta, Georgia enrolled 24 individuals with MS in a massage therapy program in order to measure the effects of massage therapy on fatigue, pain, spasticity, perception of health, and quality of life for people with MS. The investigators noted that about one third of MS patients they surveyed reported the use of massage therapy as a concurrent medical treatment, but that there was little empirical evidence to support massage therapy as an appropriate way to manage MS symptoms.

The patients, whose average age was 47.5 years, got a one hour massage once a week for six weeks in a quiet room. Licensed physical therapists and licensed massage therapists completed a standardized massage (full description of the massage here). The researchers used various scales to measure symptom improvement in the patients, such as the Modified Fatigue Index Scale (MFIS), MOS Pain Effects Scale (MOS Pain), Modified Ashworth Scale (MAS), and Mental Health Inventory (MHI).

Almost all of the study participants, 22 of 24 patients, reported a decrease in fatigue after completing the duration of the intervention. The researchers determined that there was a significant decreased in MFIS scores between the pre-intervention testing and the testing that occurred post intervention. Additionally, the team reported an 18 percent decrease in pain based on the MOS Pain scores after the massage intervention.

Among perceptions of health and quality of life, there was a significant increase in the total MHI and in all of its subscales, which the researchers believed suggested an overall improvement to mental health. But, the researchers did note that three patients did not improve on the anxiety subscale, one patient did not improve on the depression subscale, and three patients did not improve on the positive affect subscale. There were two patients, the researchers found, who experienced a decrease in both the Behavior Control and Positive Affect subscale. Quality of life also improved for patients, who improved in measures of role physical, bodily pain, role emotional, vitality, mental health, and social functioning.

The researchers commented that they were unable to find similar reductions of spasticity after the massage therapy interventions in the MS patients.

“These findings are meaningful given the prevalence of fatigue and pain in people with MS, and the extent to which these symptoms impact an individual’s perception of health and quality of life,” the study authors concluded. “Our finding that fatigue and pain were both significantly decreased in our participants with MS after massage therapy is not surprising given that massage therapy has been shown to decrease fatigue and pain in people with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia syndrome, both chronic diseases significantly impacting the health and well being of individuals in a fashion similar to MS.”

The paper, titled “Impact of Massage Therapy on Fatigue, Pain, and Spasticity in People with Multiple Sclerosis,” was published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.

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