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Massage therapy helps with pain, fatigue in MS patients, study finds

Massage therapy has shown to provide benefits for the management of fatigue and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), a recent pilot study concluded.

February 8, 2017  By Massage Therapy Canada staff

This latest study adds to growing research on the benefits of massage therapy for various types of pain. The results of a pilot study, published in December in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, showed significant benefits of regular massage over six weeks to reduce pain, fatigue and spasticity in patients with MS. The new study reinforces older studies on the value of massage for those with MS and adds to a growing body of research on how massage can ease a variety of types of pain, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) said in a statement.

MS is a chronic, immune-mediated, inflammatory disease that leads to fatigue, pain and spasticity, as well as other sensorimotor and cognitive changes. Often, traditional medical approaches are ineffective in alleviating these disruptive symptoms, study authors wrote. Although about one-third of surveyed individuals report they use massage therapy as an adjunct to medical treatment, there is little empirical evidence that MT is effective for symptom management in people with MS, they added.

“A meta-analysis in 2016 of recent research shined a light on the efficacy of massage therapy for various types of pain,” said AMTA president Nathan Nordstrom. “This new study is another piece in the picture of how massage therapy can be used as a non-pharmacologic approach to pain relief.”

This new research goes beyond previous studies on how massage therapy improved quality of life for MS patients and focused on symptom management, the AMTA said. It is another area of symptom management where massage therapy is showing positive outcomes to ease pain.


Twenty-four of 28 individuals with MS that enrolled in the non-randomized, pre-post pilot study completed all massage therapy sessions and outcome assessments. The study involved standardized massage therapy routine once a week for six weeks. Main outcome measures included modified fatigue index scale (MFIS), MOS pain effects scale, and modified ashworth scale (MOS). Secondary outcome measures included mental health inventory (MHI) and health status questionnaire (HSQ).

The researchers found there was significant improvement in MFIS (p < .01), MOS Pain (p < .01), MHI (p < .01), and HSQ (p < .01), all with a large effect size (ES) (Cohen’s d = -0.76, 1.25, 0.93, -1.01, respectively). The study also found there was a significant correlation between change scores on the MFIS and the MOS Pain (r = 0.532, p < .01), MHI (r = -0.647, p < .01), and subscales of the HSQ (ranging from r = -0.519, to -0.619, p < .01).

“MT (massage therapy) as delivered in this study is a safe and beneficial intervention for management of fatigue and pain in people with MS. Decreasing fatigue and pain appears to correlate with improvement in quality of life, which is meaningful for people with MS who have a chronic disease resulting in long-term health care needs.

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