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Body-Based Treatments: Acupuncture, Massage, and Chiropractic Medicine

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2023

Body-based treatments are used for many health issues. They are also called manipulative treatments or manual healing. In these treatments, trained experts move or touch the body to relieve symptoms and improve well-being. Common types of body-based treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS) are acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic medicine.1

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a type of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves using tiny needles on specific points of the skin. In acupuncture, the body is thought to have a flow of energy within it. This energy is called qi (“chee”). The skin is stimulated with the small needles (or other methods like heated cups) to direct the flow of qi. The belief is that the body works well when this energy is flowing in balance. Qi flows through different pathways in the body called meridians.2-4

There are hundreds of places on the skin that can be targeted during an acupuncture session. However, only a few are addressed in each session. Multiple sessions are often needed to know whether acupuncture is leading to health changes. Acupuncture sessions are led by an expert trained in traditional Chinese medicine.2,3

The most common side effects of acupuncture are soreness and minor bleeding or bruising at the needle sites. Using sterilized or single-use disposable needles reduces the risk of infection.2,3

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Acupuncture and MS

Acupuncture may be helpful for a variety of health conditions. It may improve mood, fatigue, and quality of life. Some symptoms it may help with are:2,3

  • Cancer-related nausea
  • Labor pain
  • Headaches
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Arthritis
  • Back or neck pain

For those with multiple sclerosis (MS), acupuncture may have benefits beyond pain relief. Other MS symptoms that may benefit from acupuncture are:2-4

  • Spasticity
  • Walking problems
  • Numbness
  • Depression
  • Bladder issues

Acupuncture may also play a role in reducing inflammation. However, there have been no large-scale clinical trials on acupuncture in people with MS. More research is needed to determine what effect acupuncture might have on MS symptoms.2-4

What is massage?

Massage involves using physical touch to relax the muscles. There are different types of massage. Common massage types are Swedish, German, and acupressure. Acupressure is like acupuncture but uses fingers rather than needles. Massage therapists are trained in different techniques and practice in a variety of places.5

Massage and MS

Massage often is used for muscle relaxation and stress relief. More research is needed on how massage might help people with MS. Symptoms it may benefit include:5

  • Muscle spasticity
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Poor circulation

Massage can also help prevent pressure sores. Pressure sores are areas of skin breakdown that result from not moving very much. This happens when one sits or lies in one position for long periods of time.5

What is chiropractic medicine?

Chiropractic medicine focuses on movement of the joints. Specifically, it involves the joints of the spine (spinal manipulation). The hips may also be adjusted. Chiropractors believe that realigning the spine can reduce nerve pressure. This can then lead to pain relief and other benefits.6,7

To align the spine, chiropractors press down quickly on the joints with their hands. They may also use stretching and sustained pressure in their treatment. Chiropractors are trained healthcare providers that deliver chiropractic medicine. Chiropractors collect health histories, order tests, and develop treatment plans for issues with the muscles and joints.6

The most common side effects of chiropractic medicine are headaches, fatigue, and achiness. Nerve injury, bone fractures, and stroke can occur in very rare cases.7

Chiropractic medicine and MS

More research is needed to determine if chiropractic medicine is helpful for people with MS. To date, there are no large clinical trials that look at this. However, some people with MS report pain relief after chiropractic sessions.7

Things to know about body-based treatments

Body manipulation, needle placement, and other aspects of these treatments need proper technique. That is why they must be done by a trained professional. For example, chiropractors earn a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. Massage therapists and acupuncturists also have specific training programs.6

Before starting a new treatment, look up the training of your provider. Seeing an expert in the field can help reduce the risk of complications or injury.6