There are some conditions that despite claims that crop up from time to time there are no cures for and cures are not likely in the near future. MS is one of these. Indeed there is not good evidence for massage and or aromatherapy helping with this, (The American Academy of Neurology has published guidelines for complementary therapies in MS here) though many practitioners have anecdotal evidence of some individuals being helped. I would count myself among them but having only seen one client with the condition am unable to generalise to the MS population as a whole.
Given that the there is little or no evidence that treatment will be effective what should be my stance? I am quite clear that I am unable to give a guarantee of effectiveness. I can say that one client with the condition has been helped. If asked I will say this rather than that 100% of my clients with the condition have been helped which while true is in my opinion misleading. Having a massage with aromatherapy oils in itself can and should be a pleasant experience. For some clients that in itself may be the best I can hope to achieve. 90 minutes where they have my whole attention and actively respond to their feedback about what makes them feel better and what doesn’t.
I looked to see if anyone was making unrealistic claims in this area and the Research Council For Complementary Medicine gives an almost identical message to the American organisation above. Indeed it was not until I started looking at some slightly off the wall sites that I found any recommendations of oils (Frankincense and Helichrisum ) and a statement that these support the nervous system. I mention this because I have seen the same said about these oils in other contexts although never in a peer reviewed journal. As the site I found contains some other advice that I see as potentially dangerous I am not going to publicise it here.
So should sufferers of MS and other conditions where the evidence is weak or non-existent seek treatment from Aromatherapists or other complementary therapists?
I will give a qualified, “yes.” The sites I link to above both state that there is no evidence of harm being done by the treatments they list. However my main caveats are that the client should bear in mind that there may be no benefit at all. If getting a treatment might cause stress because of finances I would suggest they are better off not getting stressed. If on the other hand they can easily afford to try a session or two out to see if it works then it is very unlikely to do any harm.
I was looking at a study recently that suggested that with lower back pain clients can be split into two groups, one of which consisits of those for whom osteopathy/massage/chiropractics brings relief very quickly and consistently and another group for whom it makes no difference. Research is needed to identify which groups clients fall into without having to try it and see. It may well be the same for MS and other conditions for which the evidence base is poor.