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22 Things to Know About Massage Therapy Before You Go

By Gay Falkowski

Whether you’re planning to go for just one massage or begin a therapeutic massage routine, it’s a good idea to learn more about how a massage could affect your wellbeing. Here’s some information and advice you may want to consider before you book your first appointment:
  1. There’s not much scientific evidence to show that people with MS benefit from massage therapy, but many anecdotal reports from massage therapists and their clients indicate that it can help relieve some symptoms of MS.
  2. Discuss your interest in massage with your doctor. Find out if you are a good candidate or if you have any conditions a massage therapist should be made aware of.
  3. Once you get the okay, search for a massage therapist who has received special training in massage for people with MS — or at least one who is knowleadgable about MS. The Massage Therapy Association at 877-905-0577 or www.amtamassage.org is one source.
  4. There is no specific protocol for massage treatment of people with MS. Individuals should be assessed and treated according to their unique symptom presentation.
  5. Massage usually is well tolerated. Minor adverse effects that have been reported include headache, muscle pain, and lethargy.
  6. Massage appears to relax muscles (only limited studies have formally evaluated this effect), and so it may be helpful for conditions that are worsened by muscle stiffness, such as headaches, neck pain, and low back pain.
  7. Massage therapy improves the circulation of oxygenated, nutrient rich blood to muscles and other tissues.
  8. Swelling (edema) is common with atrophy or paralysis. Specific light massage techniques can be used to move fluid from the affected area back into the body’s general circulation.
  9. Specific, gentle abdominal massage helps encourage movement of stored gas and stools.
  10. Massage may release chemicals known as endorphins, which reduce pain.
  11. Stimulation by massage in a painful area may decrease the number of pain impulses received by the brain from that area.
  12. Gentle, but vigorous massage strokes stimulate peripheral nerves, which may helping alleviate fatigue.
  13. Soothing massage strokes promote relaxation and enhance your quality of sleep.
  14. The simple act of touching that occurs with massage may convey positive feelings, such as caring, comfort, and acceptance.
  15. When your body doesn't respond and you can't feel things as clearly, having a practitioner put their hands on you gives you important information about where your body is in space.
  16. Some people need to maintain a certain amount of muscle tone to function. If they relax too much from the massage, they can't walk when they get off the table. A good therapist will adjust for this factor.
  17. At each visit, tell your massage therapist about any changes in symptoms. Make sure you are given a thorough assessment every time.
  18. Flareup episodes require particular attention. Pathology expert Ruth Werner, in an article in Massage Today (2002), recommends holding off on massage during an exacerbation.
  19. Heat sensitivity is a primary concern.  Since hot or cold temperatures can make your MS symptoms worse, therapists should avoid using high heat or cold therapy. This precaution also applies to the environment of the treatment room.
  20. If you take injections, be sure to note the day, location, and time of your last injection and avoid massages that involve working around puncture sites within 24 hours of the injection.
  21. Be sure to tell your massage therapist if you experience vertigo. Some massage therapy includes rocking techniques that could be uncomfortable for you.
  22. Massage therapy will not change the course of MS.