MS Society of Canada shares wellness toolbox

Massage Therapy Canada staff
September 12, 2017
By Massage Therapy Canada staff
As people settle back into the routine of school and work, the MS Society of Canada is reminding Canadians that multiple sclerosis is anything but a routine disease. MS affects each person differently and treatment options can vary drastically from person to person. Some choose pharmaceuticals. Some do not. To provide guidance, the MS Society has reached out to experts and those living with MS to create a MS Wellness Toolbox - filled with strategies to help those living with MS.

"There are as many treatment plans for MS as there are people with MS," said Dr. Karen Lee, vice-president of research, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. "Everyone's journey with MS is unique, as is their choice for treatments. Today, people living with MS have a variety of options, from diet and exercise to pharmaceuticals... We want to provide the best information and support that we can on all topics that are of interest to our community."

As research continues to advance medical treatments, there is also growing interest in wellness solutions. In 2015, the MS Society conducted a Wellness Survey to determine the needs, practices and gaps related to nutrition, physical activity and emotional wellbeing experienced by those living with MS. The results of the survey culminated in the launch of the Hermès Canada | MS Society Wellness Research Innovation Grant, which aims to develop innovative wellness solutions for people affected by MS.

One of the 2016 grant recipients is Dr. Charity Evans from the University of Saskatchewan, whose team looked at the impact of Pilates on people with MS. The three-month study was initiated within the Saskatoon community by Lead Pilates and Integrated Health Therapies and involved 30 individuals. Of the study group, 15 participated in Pilates classes twice weekly and massage therapy once a week, while the other group only received the weekly massage. While the results are still undergoing peer review, the study showed that those who participated in the Pilates classes showed improved results over those who only received the massages.

"This study is very promising, as Pilates can be individualized for almost everyone living with MS," adds Dr. Evans. "While the scientific evidence is statistically relevant, I was also moved by the personal stories of our participants. One individual had stopped driving due to lack of confidence and body control, but was able to start driving again by the end of the study. Another participant who required an assistive device to walk at the start of the study could walk unassisted at the end of the study. We believe our study proves Pilates is another great option within the MS toolbox."

A little over 20 years ago, there were no disease-modifying therapies or classes of drugs that impacted the underlying disease of MS. Now, there are 14. It's up to each person and their health-care team to determine which, if any, is right for them. To help from a wellness perspective, the MS Society reached out to those living with MS to determine common threads in managing – and thriving – with this disease. A few wellness themes emerged:

1) Move your body – Exercise is key. For most people (with or without MS), eight hours a day in the gym is not realistic, but that doesn't mean you do nothing. Pilates and yoga are emerging as new ways to be active and can be tailored for people living with MS. A variety of other activities can be adapted to provide beneficial aerobic and strength training. Just do as much as you can, as often as you can. For guidelines on physical activity and living with MS visit www.mssociety.ca

2) Feed your health – While there is a vast amount of research about diet and wellness, the general rule of thumb is to eat healthy. For some that means cutting out dairy, gluten and sugar, for others it can simply mean increasing your whole foods intake. Find the personal balance that feeds your body and soul.

3) Look beyond the traditional – While having a traditional health-care team is a must for most MS protocols, you don't have to stop there. Many people living with MS take a holistic approach to healing and incorporate nutritionists, naturopaths, massage therapists, or acupuncturists. Just ensure everyone involved in your health-care is aware of all treatments.

4) Share – Most people living with MS find it helpful to talk about their experiences. While support groups are very popular, they are not for everyone. Some people living with MS choose other avenues like writing a blog; keeping a diary; confiding in a close friend; or attending therapy sessions.

5) Cut yourself some slack – You are going to have bad days. Allow yourself to be down for a day, and then work to make tomorrow better. Just always know that you are not alone on this journey, and that help can be around the corner or a phone call away.

"No one needs to face MS alone," Evans said. "Services are available in most communities across Canada and getting involved can make the world of difference. And it's okay to start small. Anecdotally, our study found that the simple act of getting out and being a part of something improved the emotional wellbeing of all our participants. It's up to each of us to find our own wellness path."

The MS Society offers a variety of programs and services to assist people affected by multiple sclerosis to effectively manage and cope with the disease. To learn more about the MS Society of Canada Wellness Toolbox, visit www.mssociety.ca

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