How Massage Can Help With Lou Gehrig’s Disease


Licensed Massage Therapist

What is Lou Gehrig’s Disease?

Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a neurodegenerative motor neuron disease caused by the nervous system that affects muscular ability to receive stimulus from the brain. This results in the slow breakdown of muscle tissue, voluntary muscle function and overall mobility. Muscle response and movement are dictated by motor neurons which reach from the brain down through the spinal cord and out into the muscles of the body. ALS inhibits the motor neurons responsible for voluntary movement such as chewing, walking, talking and breathing from receiving nourishment. Since the body primarily operates as a use it or lose it system, the lack of nutrient delivery to these motor neurons causes them to die off and subsequently lose overall muscle control and function. This process eventually causes muscles to weaken, involuntarily twitch (“fasciculation”), waste away (“atrophy”) due to lack of nourishment, and ultimately to harden and scar (“sclerosis”).

How is it Treated?

This process of muscle breakdown and decay can cause many psychological effects, in addition to a great deal of chronic pain, and deterioration of the bodies general ability, function, and mobility. ALS is always fatal, due to the effect the disease eventually has on the respiratory system, however there are treatments that help to provide a better quality of life for the patient as the disease progresses. Medication can be used for pain management, and there are surgery and therapy options for aiding in the breathing process as lung function disintegrates. There is also physical therapy to aid in muscle function and ability in ALS patients.

Massage Effects on Lou Gehrig’s Disease:

Circulation and Lymph Function

Your blood is your primary source for delivery of oxygen to the rest of your body through circulation. Massage stimulates the flow of blood and lymph vessels, thus enhancing circulation. Think of a tube of toothpaste: when you apply pressure to the tube, toothpaste flows out of the tube more easily. The same principle applies to your blood and lymph flow when you get a massage.” Especially in the case of impaired respiratory function, massage can be a great way to ensure that the nutrients delivered through blood and oxygen are delivered to muscles that are dying or impaired by ALS. The lymphatic system is a part of the circulatory system and functions as a means to flush out waste and deliver clean fluid to your tissues. Massage works to manually move the passage of blood and lymphatic fluid through the veins and back to the heart and lymph nodes. For muscles that are affected by ALS, massage can help stimulate blood and lymph to dying areas of tissue that help clear out waste, prevent further infection, and provide oxygen to dying tissues through red and white blood cell delivery.

Massage can greatly compliment all of these therapies and aid in blood flow, oxygen absorption, lymph function, muscle movement and stimulation, pain management, and psychological care or depression.

It is important to incorporate movement at the right time during recovery after an injury as well as some sort of manual therapy such as massage therapy. Doing so retrains the muscles and connective tissue and helps aids their resiliency and adaptability.

“As muscles die off and function is impaired, widespread chronic pain is common and and be completely debilitating.”

Muscle Atrophy

ALS furthur causes the death of motor neurons, which begins the process of muscle atrophy. This process is when the muscle slowly begins to die off and lose its active movement capability. Massage can stimulate the muscle during this time to offset the lack of voluntary movement and activate those motor neurons. “The most common treatment for weak or atrophied muscle due to disuse is exercise, but in cases where the person is unable to move, electrical stimulation sometimes aids in maintaining muscle tone.”

Percussion is a great massage technique to use during this phase as it stimulates nerves, relieves muscular tension, and stimulates blood flow and deeper muscle tissues.



Sclerosis is the final phase of the death of a muscle. It can cause stiffness and inflexibility as the movement receptors have died off in the muscle and this can cause a great deal of pain and uncomfortability. Passive stretching and assisted movement through massage can provide the limbs and joints of areas affected by sclerosis with some much needed relief and fluid delivery.

Pain management

As muscles die off and function is impaired, widespread chronic pain is common and and be completely debilitating. Experienced massage therapists and clinical massage practices can help bring relief through movement to areas that are seized by immobility.

Areas that are stiff can be delivered movement through passive stretching and range of motion exercises.

As clients deal with chronic and degenerative medical conditions and reach the end of their life, the primary concern is making their life as painless as possible. Massage can be a powerful method of restoring overall quality of life for patients with chronic disease.

If you are interested in learning more about ALS or our sources checkout:
American Massage Therapy Association
ALS Association
“Physical Therapy for ALS Patients”

Happy healing!

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