pic of a man's hands holding a cane with MS and Parkinson's

Massage Therapy for MS and Parkinson’s

What is MS/Multiple Sclerosis?

MS is currently thought to be an autoimmune condition of the brain and the spinal cord.  The immune system attacks and damages the myelin sheath which acts to insulate nerve conduction.  The damaged sheath means that nerve transmissions from the brain to the body don’t work adversely affecting all bodily functions. Canada has the highest incidence of MS in the world, with one in 385 Canadians affected with this disease.

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s disease is an illness where some of the nerve cells in the brain die.  These nerve cells or neurons help to produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is considered to be our “reward” neurotransmitter.  It also has calming affects.  The lack of dopamine, leads to symptoms like tremors, muscle weakness or rigidity, difficulty talking or walking.

How Can Massage Therapy Help MS and Parkinson’s?

What is common about these central nervous system disorders is that they can cause severe muscle tension, spasticity or rigidity. Many massage techniques reduce abnormal muscle tone, relieve pain, and increase circulation and muscle length to reduce spasm. Massage works to relax the sympathetic nervous system sedating the “fight or flight” reflex. Although massage cannot cure these two CNS disorders, it can have very beneficial effects in reducing symptoms and improving quality of life.  Massage can be very effective in helping patients manage their symptom frequency. For a period of time after the massage, patients can have reduced spastic symptoms.  With neurological conditions like MS and Parkinson’s, RMT techniques cannot be too aggressive or fast-paced, however.

What Does the Research Say About Massage Therapy for MS and Parkinson’s?

  • In a study comparing massage therapy and exercise therapy for MS: Massage therapy resulted in a significantly larger improvement in pain reduction, dynamic balance and walking speed than exercise therapy.
  • Massage therapy, as delivered in this study, is a safe and beneficial intervention for the management of fatigue and pain in people with MS. Decreasing fatigue and pain appears to correlate with improvement in the quality of life, which is meaningful for people with MS who have a chronic disease resulting in long-term health care needs.
  • Abdominal massage, as an adjunct to management of constipation, offers an acceptable and potentially beneficial intervention to patients with Parkinson‘s.

Research on Massage Therapy for MS and Parkinson’s

Clin Rehabil. 2013 Dec;27(12):1126-36. doi: 10.1177/0269215513491586. Epub 2013 Jul 4.
Massage therapy and exercise therapy in patients with multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled pilot study.
Negahban H1, Rezaie S, Goharpey S.

Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2016 Dec 9;9(4):4-13. eCollection 2016 Dec.
Impact of Massage Therapy on Fatigue, Pain, and Spasticity in People with Multiple Sclerosis: a Pilot Study.
Backus D1, Manella C1, Bender A1, Sweatman M1.

Age Ageing. 2016 Mar;45(2):299-303. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afw005. Epub 2016 Jan 29.
Abdominal massage for the alleviation of symptoms of constipation in people with Parkinson’s: a randomised controlled pilot study.
McClurg D1, Hagen S2, Jamieson K2, Dickinson L3, Paul L4, Cunnington A5.