Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an incurable disease of the central nervous system. Complementary therapies can work alongside a person's medical treatment by helping to ease symptoms. These therapies include chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, yoga, meditation and dietary modifications.
The nerves of the central nervous system are sheathed in myelin, a substance that assists in nerve function. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an incurable disease of the central nervous system that inflames the myelin and causes plaques or lesions to appear. The brain, spinal cord and optic nerves can be affected.
Medications for MS are used to help reduce relapses or attacks, ease specific symptoms and slow progression of the disease. The types of medications used in treatment depend on a number of factors, including the form of MS a person has.
There is a range of complementary therapies that can work alongside a person’s medical treatment by helping to ease symptoms. However, while some treatments are beneficial, others are simply a waste of time and money. Be advised by your doctor and other healthcare providers, as some complementary treatments can have negative interactions with medications you may be taking as advised by your doctor.
Acupuncture for MS
Acupuncture is a therapy of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Slender needles are inserted into the skin at particular points and, according to the theory, help to balance the person’s Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) energy. While Western science can’t explain how acupuncture works, numerous studies have found it is an effective treatment for a number of conditions. Acupuncture can help ease MS-related pain and reduce the severity of muscle spasms.
Massage for MS
There are various types of massage including shiatsu, Swedish massage and acupressure. The skin is the largest organ of the body and is packed with nerve endings that respond to touch. Massage works by soothing the skin and relaxing tense muscles. Regular massages can help a person with MS to better manage muscle pain.
Yoga for MS
There are many different varieties of yoga, but each one relies on structured poses (asanas) timed with breathing (prayanama). Yoga can help relieve stress, because concentrating on the postures and breathing acts as a strong form of meditation. The gentle sustained stretches also help to improve flexibility and reduce muscle stiffness.
Chiropractic for MS
Some people have reported that chiropractic treatment relieves the symptoms of lower back pain through massage and manipulation of the spine.
Meditation for MS
Meditation is the deliberate clearing of one’s mind to promote a sense of calm and heightened awareness. During meditation, the brain produces alpha waves. This brain state has been found to promote relaxation of the entire nervous system. Meditation is a powerful stress management therapy.
Supplements for MS
Some studies suggest that evening primrose oil and fish oil supplements can measurably reduce the severity and length of an MS attack. However, these supplements don’t seem to influence the frequency of attacks.
Complementary therapies, which are alleged to help people with MS, but have been shown through clinical testing to be ineffective include:
- Replacing mercury dental fillings – mercury in dental fillings has been incorrectly blamed for causing MS. This claim was made because mercury poisoning affects the brain and can cause symptoms similar to MS, such as muscle tremors.
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy – this means inhaling oxygen under pressure. Studies around the world have found that hyperbaric oxygen therapy has no effect on either MS symptoms or disease progression.
- Vitamin supplements – high doses of vitamin or mineral supplements have no demonstrable influence on MS.
- Special diets – there is no evidence that dietary factors contribute to the onset of MS. However, once diagnosed, like anyone else, a person with MS should eat a well-balanced high-fibre, low-fat diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, cereals, lean meats and dairy products.
Be advised by your doctor
Your healthcare professionals should keep abreast of MS research and let you know when clinically proven new treatments are developed. Remember, there is currently no cure for MS.
Be cautious when investigating a complementary therapy and be sceptical of ‘miracle cure’ claims. Always ask your doctor for advice before starting any complementary treatment, as some complementary treatments may have negative interactions with medications you may be taking.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Complementary healthcare therapists
- MS Australia Tel. 1800 042 138
Things to remember
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an incurable disease of the central nervous system that can affect the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
- There is a range of complementary therapies that can work alongside a person’s medical treatment by helping to ease symptoms.
- Effective management may include chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, yoga, meditation and dietary modifications.
- Be advised by your doctor when considering any complementary treatment.
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Last reviewed: July 2012
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