by Mary Vincent, L.Ac.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system in which the person’s own immune system attacks the protective covering (myelin sheath) that surrounds their nerves. This myelin sheath is crucial to proper functioning of the nervous system, including the speed and accuracy of messages sent between the brain and the body. When damage occurs to the myelin sheath and proper brain-body communication is disrupted, the resulting impact on the nervous system can include a variety of symptoms, depending on which nerves are being attacked. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, can vary from person to person, and may include:

Tingling, numbness, weakness in the face, body, or extremities.
Blurry vision, double vision, eye pain, or colors that suddenly appear dull.
Nerve pain like an “electric shock” when moving the neck (particularly bending it forward).
Fatigue
Dizziness
Tremors
Muscle spasticity
Unsteady balance or gait
Itching
Headaches
Speech or swallowing problems
Declining bladder and bowel function

The above symptoms are often exacerbated when the body is warmer than usual, such as in hotter climates or during exercise. Most people will have periods of relapse and remission with their symptoms, in which their particular symptoms will flare up for days or weeks at a time, followed by a partial or complete improvement of these same symptoms for months to years. In at least 60% of people with MS, the disease course will eventually progress with less frequent remissions and a steady worsening of symptoms (known as secondary-progressive MS). A small percentage of individuals with MS will experience a gradual onset of symptoms and a steady progression of the disease without remissions (known a primary-progressive MS).

Multiple Sclerosis, at this time, is a disease of unknown origin. This means that no one knows quite how or why one develops the disease. There are implications that there are environmental and genetic factors in play. There is a tendency for it to run in families, and it though it occurs in all ethnic groups, it is most common in Caucasians, and 2-3 times more common in women than men. Identical twins have only a 25% chance of developing if one has the disease, therefore genetics cannot be the sole factor. It is well known and of great interest that a higher than average percentage of people in temperate climates of the world (areas between the subtropics and polar circles) will develop MS. The farther from the equator you go, the more common MS becomes. People that move to these areas take on a higher risk of developing the disease, as those that move out of these areas have a decreased risk. The reasons for why the rate is so much higher in these areas of the world is the focus of much research, but has yet to be determined.

Acupuncture can be very beneficial and effective in treating symptoms related to nerve problems. We treat many nerve issues related to a wide variety of disorders here at BCA, including symptoms related to MS. We find a majority of people have at least some reduction in symptoms, especially related to pain and fatigue. Just as is true with any other ailment, the earlier treatment occurs and the less severe the progression of disease or injury, the more likely the individual is to experience significant relief and lasting results. This means try acupuncture at the onset of symptoms, before they become severe, not as a last resort when nothing else helps and symptoms are becoming intolerable. A combination of western medications and acupuncture can often have the greatest impact on quality of life when dealing with chronic disease or pain. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society states:

“Acupuncture may provide relief for some MS related symptoms, including pain, spasticity, numbness and tingling, bladder problems, and depression… If acupuncture is used, it should be as an addition to, rather than as a substitute for standard medical treatments.”

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, we would suggest trying acupuncture for around 10 sessions to determine if it will be beneficial to your particular case, usually starting with a few sessions in a row or every other day. Most people will start seeing some improvement by the 5th or 6th treatment, assuming the sessions are not spaced too far apart in the initial stages of treatment.