by Pat Mayrhofer
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease, an abnormal response of the body’s immune system that is directed against the myelin sheath, which surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers in the central nervous system, brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The cause of MS is still unknown; however, it is suspected to be a result of genetics, environment or perhaps a virus.
There are four different types of MS: relapsing-remitting MS, secondary-progressive MS, primary-progressive MS and progressive-relapsing MS. Symptoms may vary from mild to severe, with remissions, relapses or the steady progression of disability. Signs and symptoms, which vary by individual, can be triggered by stress, emotional upset or extreme temperatures. It is a painful and disturbing disease with accompanying problems, such as bladder and bowel dysfunction, dizziness and vertigo, difficulty with memory, attention and problem solving, fatigue, balance problems and difficulty in walking, numbness or “pins and needles” pain, and vision problems.
MS is known to occur more frequently in areas that are farther from the equator. This may be due to the lack of vitamin D, which the human body produces naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
Massage is important for maintaining flexibility and reducing spasticity. Massage will decrease the tone in rigid muscles and prevent stiffness in joints. The therapist must work to the needs of the client, as each will vary in the severity of his or her condition, and symptoms may vary from day to day.
Stress is one of the triggers of an MS flare-up, and massage is one of the best ways to reduce stress; therefore, regular massage is indicated for treating symptoms of MS. However, it is best to avoid hot and cold treatments when performing massage. As a result, hot-stone massage would be contraindicated, but the use of warm stones would comfort the MS client suffering with spastic and stiff muscles and joints.
When it is necessary to release a problem in the muscle, stones are ideal to use; however, it is possible that extreme deep pressure may cause a flare-up. Therefore, for the MS client, the therapist can work deep in a muscle with less pressure by using a warm stone rather than a hot stone. The warmth penetrates deep into the muscle giving a deep relaxation. In addition, myofascial release and myofascial unwinding with warm stones is suggested for relief from pain, spasticity, muscle tension and restoring emotional balance.
Because cold is contraindicated for MS sufferers, one would think working with cold marble stones would not be suggested. Yet, cool marble stones are wonderful to work with to reduce inflammation. Because marble tends to feel 11 degrees cooler than its environment, you can produce positive effects by working with the marble stones at room temperature. Muscles embrace cool marble stones, unlike the cold from ice or other cryogenic methods.
One treatment modality highly recommended for MS is reflexology. Reflexology can affect all areas of the body by working on the feet and hands—some reflexologists work on the ears and face as well—to relieve discomfort from many disorders, including MS. Many reflexology practitioners are discovering how effective stones are in releasing reflex points using less pressure. Even though stones are used hot for this treatment, the stones cool quickly, and the heat should not present a problem as long as the treatment is confined to the feet or hands. If massaging the legs and arms is part of the treatment, then use only warm stones.
With all massage, experts recommend short treatment duration as not to over-stimulate body functions. With any modality, the most important ingredient in helping a client suffering from MS or any other disease or problem is the intent with which the practitioner works. What is in your heart is felt in your hands.
Please look for future articles on www.MASSAGEmag.com, as I explore the exciting arena of stone massage. I will write about safety issues, contraindications, the expansion of stone therapy to different modalities, the evolution into cold-stone therapy with marble stones and now the resurgence of stone massage with the innovation of carved basalt stones. I will also discuss accessory products, such as massage oil, essential oils, heaters, textiles, DVDs and seminars. I look forward to an ongoing conversation with you.
Pat Mayrhofer is president and founder of Nature’s Stones Inc., an international massage-stone, education and supply company. She is a massage therapist with more than 15 years of experience, having taught for 13 of those years in Italy, Austria, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Mayrhofer and her staff have created a comprehensive series of live, hands-on training programs, educational DVDs available for distance learning and a line of associated stone and textile products. For more information, visit www.naturestonesinc.com.