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Practitioner-Based CAM Treatment Options for Multiple Sclerosis

Although few complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments have been studied in large controlled trials, enough small studies have been done with some of the treatments to indicate which ones may prove useful and which may not.

The following interventions are provided by a clinician or practitioner with specialized training or expertise:

  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture, a component of traditional Chinese medicine, involves inserting thin needles into specified acupuncture points on the body to alter the body’s energy flow. In small and preliminary studies in MS, acupuncture has provided some relief of anxiety, depression, dizziness, pain, bladder difficulties, and weakness.

  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback uses monitoring equipment to make a person’s bodily functions (for example, heart rate) visible so that the person can learn to modify or control the function. It may be beneficial for some MS-associated conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, pain, bladder and bowel incontinence, and muscle stiffness.

  • Chelation therapy: This type of therapy involves intravenous infusions of chemicals that bind to chelates (harmful metals) in blood. Although it’s effective for treating cases of heavy-metal toxicity such as lead poisoning, there’s no scientific evidence that chelation therapy is effective in MS. It’s very expensive, and serious side effects (including kidney injury, bone marrow damage, and even death) may result.

  • Chiropractic: This therapy involves manipulations of the spine to correct mild bone abnormalities that are thought to exert pressure on the nerves. There’s no evidence that chiropractic therapy is beneficial for MS attacks or for altering the course of the disease, but it may help to reduce musculoskeletal pain, especially in the back. Users of chiropractic should be aware of the rare side effects, including stroke.

  • Dental amalgam removal: The removal of dental amalgams (the silver-colored fillings dentists use to repair cavities) is based on the idea that the mercury contained in them is toxic to the body’s nervous and immune systems. In spite of the hype this treatment has received over the years, there’s no evidence that removing dental amalgams and replacing them with other materials has a beneficial effect on MS.

  • Hippotherapy: Therapeutic horseback riding offers possible benefits for walking difficulties, spasticity, weakness, bladder and bowel problems, and depression.

  • Hypnosis and guided imagery: Neither hypnosis nor guided imagery has been fully investigated. Both are well-tolerated, low-to-moderate-cost therapies that may relieve anxiety and pain in people with MS.

  • Magnets and electromagnetic therapy: Low-intensity magnets and pulsing electromagnetic fields have been used in medicine for hundreds of years in an effort to correct what are thought to be electrical imbalances in the body. A few small studies have suggested that pulsing electromagnetic fields may improve spasticity and bladder problems in MS, but further studies are needed to evaluate their efficacy and safety.

  • Massage: Massage, which involves many different techniques, helps to relax muscles and relieve stress. Even though it hasn’t been extensively studied in MS, limited studies in other conditions suggest that it may improve mood and reduce spasticity and certain types of pain.

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