Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a complex condition that currently affects approximately 400,000 people in the United States—with 200 more people diagnosed every week. This chronic disease causes uncomfortable, sometimes debilitating, symptoms that can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks.
An unpredictable condition: The exact causes of MS are not entirely understood, and there is currently no cure, though there have been many advances in treatment in recent years. Western medicine considers MS an autoimmune condition, which occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. In the case of MS, the immune system starts attacking and breaking down a substance called myelin, the sheath that surrounds the nerve fibers of the central nervous system. Myelin increases the speed of the transmission of nerve signals.
When myelin becomes “broken” or destroyed, nerve impulses are slowed down, leading to a progression of nerve related problems. When these nerve fibers become damaged, symptoms can result, including:
- blurred vision
- loss of balance
- poor coordination
- slurred speech
- memory problems
- numbness or weakness of the limbs
The symptoms of MS vary from person to person, can range from minor to severe, and can even disappear for a period of time only to flare up unexpectedly.
Treatment options: Depending upon your symptoms and the progression of the disease, your doctor may suggest medications designed to slow the disease and/or medications for the symptoms.
It is important to take an active role in your treatment. More and more, people living with MS are choosing to complement their Western treatment with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncture and TCM can provide a safe, natural way for those living with MS to stay as healthy as possible. Including acupuncture and TCM in your treatment plan can help boost your overall health and relieve symptoms. Practitioners of TCM view MS differently than Western medicine practitioners, taking into account each individual’s overall health, lifestyle, and emotional well-being—not just their symptoms.
TCM is based on the concept that Qi, (pronounced “chee”) or vital energy, flows through the body in channels called meridians. If Qi becomes stagnant, unbalanced, or deficient, symptoms such as those linked to MS can result. This can occur for any number of reasons, from an inherited constitutional imbalance or illness to stress or an external invader such as wind or dampness.
Your practitioner will work to determine the condition at the root of your symptoms in order to create a treatment plan. For example, the muscular stiffness and numbness associated with MS are often related to excessive dampness within the meridians, or a deficiency in the Liver and Kidney organ systems.
Based on their diagnosis, your acupuncture practitioner will work to balance the Qi in the body’s organ systems by manipulating corresponding points on the body with hair-thin acupuncture needles. While acupuncture alone can’t cure MS, it has been found to be particularly useful in managing symptoms such as pain, muscle spasms, and bladder problems.
Self-care for MS: MS can have an impact on every part of your life. To help support both your physical and emotional well-being, your practitioner may suggest some of these lifestyle changes and self-care techniques.
- Herbal remedies. Your practitioner may provide herbs or nutritional supplements designed to help relieve symptoms and boost your overall health. Be sure to let your other health care providers know if you take supplements in order to avoid any potential drug interactions.
- Staying cool. Heat can make symptoms of MS worse. Tepid baths, cool drinks, and air conditioning may help make you more comfortable.
- Exercise. Yoga and Qi Gong can help improve strength, balance, and depression. Consider adding gentle aerobic exercise as well to improve your overall health and reduce stress.
- Stress relief. Stress can exacerbate symptoms and cause other health problems, so it’s important to keep your stress levels in check. Meditation or deep-breathing techniques can help you stay calm and relaxed. Massage is another great way to help relieve stress and loosen tense muscles. If your anxiety becomes overwhelming, consider talking to a professional.
MS is a serious condition, but many people with MS live long, happy, fulfilled lives. Acupuncture and TCM can provide the support you need to cope with MS and its effects. If you or someone you love is facing MS, contact an acupuncturist today.
Chinese herbal treatment for Multiple Sclerosis and other flaccidity syndromes. S. Dharmananda, Ph.D. Inst. for Traditional Medicine.
Traditional Chinese medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. A patient guide. E. Vickers, N.D., L.Ac.
Acupuncture for Multiple Sclerosis, http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/25614. 6/27/08.©2008 Acupuncture Media Works