3 Mind-Body Therapies to Ease MS Symptoms

A calm mind can reduce fatigue and pain in MS

Yoga class
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It's estimated that over 50 percent of people with MS engage in complementary therapies to help manage their disease. Complementary therapies allow you to take a more proactive role in your MS health. In addition, these therapies usually have a wider impact than just reducing MS symptoms—they can boost your spirit and morale, improve other aspects of your health (like your heart health), and simply make you feel good.

Three popular complementary mind-body techniques used by people with MS include:

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy
  • Yoga
  • Meditation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy

Progressive muscle relaxation therapy (PMRT) was developed in the 1920s and is based on the premise that your mind works with certain muscles within your body in a cohesive way. So with this therapy, relaxation is induced by becoming aware of the tension in your muscles and then freeing that tension. By voluntarily tensing and releasing (relaxing) large muscles in your body from your hands all the way to your feet, you can ease a number of MS-related symptoms like depression and anxiety, poor sleep quality, and fatigue. PMRT also helps distract people's attention away from their pain.

This type of relaxation therapy also helps relieve muscle strain and contractions, a common problem in MS, known as spasticity. Spasticity occurs as a result of the loss of myelin sheath of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord that control nerve impulses to the muscles.

In MS, there is a wide range of spasticity. For instance, some people have intermittent and mild muscle tightness and stiffness whereas others experience severe, debilitating muscle spasms and contractures.

Be aware that you will probably need a professional like a psychologist, nurse, or therapist to help you devise a proper progressive muscle relaxation program based on your MS-related symptoms.

But don't worry about the time commitment. People typically just need a couple sessions before they learn how to implement the exercises at home. It may also be useful to have your partner or loved one attend the sessions with you—that way they can participate with you (more fun!) or help you with the exercises if needed.


Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that incorporates the elements of breathing, physical postures, and relaxation—the idea behind this therapy being that you are unifying your mind and body. There are a wide variety of yoga forms, and they vary in intensity and style. For instance, Hatha yoga is gentler and focuses more on breathing and posture. Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga, on the other hand, tend to be more strenuous. Also, one type of yoga called hot yoga is not advised for those with MS, as it's done within a warm environment and can worsen MS symptoms—a phenomenon called the Uhthoff phenomenon.

Like progressive muscle relaxation therapy, yoga can improve your fatigue and reduce muscle spasticity.

It may also improve your mental health, although the results of scientific studies on this are inconsistent.

Yoga is also a good alternative to aerobic exercise, and exercise is strongly supported by the National MS Society as a part of your MS care. In fact, one study in Neurology found that yoga was just as effective as aerobic therapy in improving fatigue in people with MS.


Meditation encompasses a number of forms like mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and mantra meditation. Regardless of these unique meditative therapies, meditation is a common practice among people with MS—and research consistently finds it to be beneficial and safe. These benefits include reducing:

  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • pain
  • stress

Meditation has also been found to improve sleep for both new and experienced meditators. It can also be combined with other complementary therapies like progressive muscle relaxation therapy.

The Bottom Line

While these techniques are not curative, they can ease some of your most bothersome MS-related symptoms. As an extra bonus, these therapies are inexpensive and safe. Also, by engaging in a complementary therapy, you can feel empowered—gaining back some control from a rather unforgiving and unpredictable disease.


Dayapoğlu N, Tan M. Evaluation of the effect of progressive relaxation exercises on fatigue and sleep quality in patients with multiple sclerosis. J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Oct;18(10):983-7.

Frank R, Larimore J. Yoga as a method of symptom management in multiple sclerosis. Front Neurosci. 2015 Apr 30;9:133.

Levin AB, Hadgkiss EJ, Weiland TJ, & Jelink GA. Meditation as an adjunct to the management of multiple sclerosis. Neurol Res Int. 2014.

Namjooyan F, Ghanavati R, Majdinasab N, Jokari S, & Janbozorgi M. Uses of complementary and alternative medicine in multiple sclerosis. J Tradit Complement Med. 2014 Jul-Sep;4(3):145-52.

Oken B. et al. Randomized controlled trial of yoga and exercise in multiple sclerosis. Neurology 2004 Jun 8;62(11):2058-64.

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