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Treating Multiple Sclerosis with Exercise, Prayer, and Other Options

Some forms of complementary and alternative treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS) involve activities that you can do on you own or in groups. For example, consider these activities:

  • Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy, in which the essential oils from certain kinds of plants are inhaled or applied by massage, has a low risk and a reasonable cost. Several small clinical studies suggest it’s beneficial for anxiety and depression, but further research is needed.

  • Cooling: Reducing a person’s body temperature slightly (with a cooling vest or other cooling strategy) may help speed nerve conduction in people with MS. Limited research studies have found that cooling may relieve many MS-associated symptoms, including weakness, fatigue, spasticity, walking difficulties, urinary difficulties, speech disorders, visual difficulties, sexual problems, incoordination, and cognitive difficulties.

  • Cooling therapy may soon make the transition to standard medical practice in MS. In the meantime, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America offers a choice of free cooling equipment to people with MS who qualify. Call 800-532-7667 or apply by email.

  • Exercise: Exercise that’s geared to a person’s abilities and limitations not only promotes general health but also has beneficial effects on MS symptoms, including weakness, walking difficulties, muscle stiffness, osteoporosis, low back pain, bladder difficulties, bowel problems, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and anger. People with MS who are heat-sensitive should avoid becoming overheated.

  • Prayer and spirituality: These are being evaluated to determine whether they can improve overall health or improve the course of a disease. Research is under way to evaluate their effectiveness in MS.

  • T’ai Chi: This low-risk therapy is a component of traditional Chinese medicine that combines the physical benefits of exercise with the relaxing effects of meditation. T’ai Chi may improve walking ability and decrease stiffness in people with MS.

  • Yoga: Yoga is relatively inexpensive and safe. Even though it hasn’t been rigorously investigated, it may reduce anxiety, pain, and spasticity. Many chapters of the National MS Society offer yoga programs (call 800-FIGHT-MS or 800-344-4867) for people with varying levels of disability.

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