Many students are drawn to massage therapy college because of a desire to help others achieve optimal health and wellbeing. They have an intuitive appreciation for the healing power of touch - an understanding that is both grounded and enhanced by theoretical and practical training. As students learn about neuroanatomy, pathology, and the musculoskeletal system in class, and work directly with patients as interns, they become increasingly aware of the incredibly diverse clinical applications of massage therapy.
While therapeutic massage is indeed a valuable resource for everyday stress relief and relaxation, the practice is also beneficial for patients battling a range of serious diseases. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is one of those diseases - and increasingly, clients with ALS turn to MTs to help them cope with significant physical and emotional challenges.
ALS is a degenerative disease that affects the body’s nervous system. The first signs of disease typically manifest in the limbs, as weakness or difficulty controlling muscles. This is because the muscle neurons are slowly dying, and can no longer receive signals from the brain. Over time, as more and more neurons degenerate, muscles throughout the body become unresponsive and atrophied. Speech is often completely lost, as is the ability to eat. However, cognitive and sensory function remain fully intact. The patient is entirely aware of the collapse of their musculoskeletal system, and often experiences a great deal of pain and mental distress. It is important for MTs to familiarize themselves with all the stages of ALS, and to tailor treatments accordingly. When administered skillfully, massage therapy can ease both the psychological and physical suffering of patients.
Massage therapy training encompasses a wide variety of techniques that MTs can adapt according to patient needs. Clients with varying stages of ALS - from initial reduced mobility to complete muscle atrophy - will require different approaches. In most cases, massage therapists will use techniques that promote circulation and range of motion to maintain muscle control for as long as possible. Massage therapy is also very helpful in relaxing muscles that are prone to spasm and aching as ALS patients begin to lose function in their arms and legs. For patients with very little muscle mass remaining, MTs will often chose to provide relief from discomfort by focussing on the head, hands and feet.
It is well known that massage therapy has tremendous power to sooth and comfort patients on an emotional level. We also understand that stress and anxiety are great contributors to disease, which only underscores the importance of regular massage to our overall health and vitality. For patients with ALS, massage therapy has been reported to be very helpful for maintaining peace of mind and spirit. ALS is commonly linked with anxiety and depression. Registered massage therapists who work with sufferers of ALS often observe how treatment helps ease emotional distress at any stage of the disease, offering respite to clients who must passively bear witness to the deterioration of their own body. MTs will typically treat patients through the entire progression of the disease, working in palliative centers or private homes - and they often report that these experiences are amongst the most rewarding and sobering of their entire career.
Have you ever worked with a patient who suffers from ALS?