A person is laying face down on a massage table while long arms reach and massage the middle back.

One of the Best Gifts from Caregivers to Patients

When MS rears its ugly head, patients can experience fatigue, depression, and helplessness. Caregivers, particularly spouses, can assist in a variety of ways. One of the more pleasant ways of helping is to provide a massage. This sort of therapy will not alter the course of the disease, but it can reduce the patient’s anxiety and lift her spirits.

Now, we’re not necessarily talking about buying a gift certificate at your local massage therapist. That would not be a bad idea, since massage therapists are trained, licensed professionals who can deliver a variety of massages to their clients. Common massage techniques include Swedish, German, Shiatsu, and Acupressure.

What's the difference between common massage techniques?

Swedish massage uses traditional techniques such as effleurage (a long gliding stroke), petrissage (kneading and compression) and vibration (rapid, shaking movements). German massage combines Swedish techniques with therapeutic baths, but the warm baths are not suited to people with MS who are heat sensitive. Shiatsu is a Japanese system using finger pressure to increase circulation and restore energy balance to the body. Acupressure is based on acupuncture, but it uses fingers instead of needles to stimulate parts of the body.

Does massage alter the course of MS?

Many MS patients use massage for prevention or relief of spasticity, pain, poor circulation, and pressure sores. Massage can help relax muscles, enhance range of motion, reduce swelling, and increase blood flow.

Massage can help MS patients deal with the symptoms of MS, but there is no evidence that it will affect the underlying disease. In a 1998 study, some MS patients received a 45-minute massage twice a week for five weeks while others received no treatment. Based on self-reporting, those who received massages reported an increase in physical and social activity, but no improvement in grip strength and only minor improvement in ambulation.1

Key takeaway

But the critical takeaway from the study was that the massage group reported a decrease in depression, which is critical in coping with a disease that can be exacerbated by anxiety.

Another study found that abdominal massage therapy assisted patients with bowel problems.2

Do MS patients need a professional massage therapist to benefit?

According to the Mayo Clinic, one can learn to administer self-massage or have a partner provide a massage.3 From experience in providing my spouse, an MS patient, with basic touch massages to the head, shoulders, and calves, a home massage can relax and de-stress the recipient, which improves the patient’s mood and reduces stress.

Do I need to use my hands?

There are countless types of electric massage devices that can work and relax muscles. The hot consumer item at present is the massage gun or Theragun. This device delivers a punching, pulsating impact to muscles in what is known as percussive therapy.

Theraguns have been endorsed by several celebrities, including tennis great Maria Sharapova, NBA star Kyrie Erving, model Heather Graham, and actor Michael B. Jordan. Some Theragun users claim the vibrations from the jackhammer-like massage emulate a deep tissue massage.

But there are no clinical studies of the effects of massage gun therapy.

The benefits of healing hands

There is a wealth of information on the mental and physical benefits of the human touch, particularly with respect to infants and children. It has been reported that hugging and holding hands can lower one’s blood pressure. There is less information on the specific benefits of a home massage given by a spouse/caregiver. But even a light touch massage in which a caregiver lightly strokes the head, shoulders, or calves can relax the MS patient, bringing serenity and relaxation to a body (and mind) that has been under stress.

Of course, YouTube is replete with instructive videos on the art of massage for those who want to vigorously work a patient’s muscle and tissue. But mere touch itself has long been shown to release feel-good hormones in our brain such as oxytocin, which can lower our blood pressure and improve our overall health. No batteries required.

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