Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the body’s myelin, the protective sheath that encases the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, eventually causing deterioration of the nerves themselves. When myelin is damaged, the messages that travel along that nerve may be slowed or blocked, interfering with the communication between the brain and the rest of the body.
It is not yet understand exactly why multiple sclerosis occurs in some people and not other although a combination of factors, ranging from genetics to childhood infections, may play a role. Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world.
Multiple sclerosis can be difficult to diagnose early in the course of the disease, because symptoms often occur in periods of relapse and remission, sometimes disappearing for months. Symptoms vary widely, depending on the amount of damage and the particular nerves that are affected. Symptoms can include dizziness, fatigue, tremors, lack of coordination or unsteady walk, double vision or blurring of vision, tingling or pain in parts of the body, deterioration of vision, electrical jolt sensations that occur with certain head movements, and numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, which typically occurs on one side of the body at a time or the bottom half of the body. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis often are triggered or worsened by an increase in body temperature.
Because there is presently no cure for multiple sclerosis, treatment typically focuses on combating the autoimmune response and managing the symptoms. Western medical treatment mainly consists of medications to manage symptoms, although many disease-modifying treatments are being developed. Some people have such mild symptoms that no treatment is necessary.
In Chinese medicine, a number of factors are considered to contribute to the development of multiple sclerosis, including diet, lifestyle, and constitutional factors that may cause a vulnerability to developing this condition. MS is considered a dampness pattern, meaning that there is an obstruction of the flow of energy through the body’s channels, causing a feeling of heaviness in the legs as well as numbness and tingling. Over time, the blocked energy has an effect on other areas, causing a deficiency in the liver and kidneys that leads to blurred vision, weakness of the legs, dizziness, and vertigo.
Acupuncture cannot cure multiple sclerosis, but it can offer considerable help in alleviating the symptoms and slowing down the progress of the condition. However, the extent to which acupuncture can help depends on when treatment is started- the earlier treatment is started, the better.
If treatment is started in the very early stages, symptoms can be minimized and even eliminated, and the disease progression slowed or halted. Later stages of multiple sclerosis can be more difficult to treat, however acupuncture can still be of benefit in the relief of symptoms, and is an option well worth considering for the management of this condition. One can expect a schedule of 2-3 treatments per week for the first few weeks, going down to once a week as progress is made.
Living with a chronic illness such as MS is a challenge that means managing symptoms and preventing and minimizing flare-ups. Staying healthy, exercising, decreasing stress, avoiding heat, and lots of rest can play a big part in managing the condition and maintaining quality of life. Finding therapies that can help to manage symptoms and keep the body healthy are also important, and acupuncture can play a role in this management.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre’s new location, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.