The term alternative therapy, in general, is used to describe any medical treatment or intervention that has not been scientifically documented or identified as either safe or effective for a specific condition.
Alternative therapy encompasses a variety of disciplines that range from diet and exercise to mental conditioning and lifestyle changes. Examples include acupuncture, yoga, aromatherapy, relaxation, herbal remedies, and massage.
In some ways, each person with multiple sclerosis lives with a different illness. Although nerve damage is always involved, the pattern is unique for each individual who has MS.
Although individual experiences with MS vary widely, doctors and researchers have identified several major types of MS. The categories are important. That's because they help predict disease severity -- and response to treatment.
Complementary therapies are alternative therapies used in addition to traditional treatments. For example, you may have weekly massages to complement your drug treatment.
What Alternative Therapies Are Recommended for MS?
Positive Attitude. Having a positive outlook cannot cure MS, but it can reduce your stress and help you feel better.
Exercise. Exercises, such as tai chi and yoga can lower your stress, help you to be more relaxed, and increase your energy, balance, and flexibility. As with any exercise program, check with your doctor before getting started. It is important that you never exercise to the point of fatigue, as this may worsen your symptoms. Likewise, avoid getting overheated and try to exercise in the early morning on hot days.
Diet. It is important for people with MS to follow a healthy, well-balanced diet. Ask your doctor what diet is right for you.
What Are Some Other Alternative/Complementary Therapy Options for MS?
Massage. Many people with MS receive regular massage therapy to help relax and reduce stress and depression, which could trigger a relapse. There is no evidence that massage changes the course of the disease. It is usually safe for people with MS to receive a massage, but if you have bone-thinning osteoporosis (usually as a result of your treatments) massage may be dangerous. Talk to your doctor first.
Acupuncture. Some people with MS report that acupuncture provides some relief of symptoms, such as pain, muscle spasms, or bladder control problems. There have been no scientific studies to confirm this or to document that acupuncture is safe for people with MS. Also, keep in mind that there are always risks when a procedure involves puncturing the body with needles as is done with acupuncture. The main risk is infection, which is minimal if sterilizing techniques are used. Always ask if the needles have been sterilized or are ''one time'' use disposable needles.
Diet. It is important for people with MS to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet to keep them as healthy as possible. Discuss any dietary concerns you may have with your doctor.
Marijuana. The use of marijuana to treat any illness remains highly controversial. Some people with MS claim that smoking marijuana helps relieve spasticity and other MS-related symptoms. However, there is little evidence to date that marijuana really works. Research is ongoing to answer this important question. Until more is known, most doctors do not recommend the use of marijuana to treat MS.