Complementary therapy techniques to support motor neurone disease (MND)

In our Summer issue of International Therapist magazine (Issue 133), we published ‘Man Kind’, a feature looking at the benefits of physical therapies on supporting male mental health.

Catherine Wood, MFHT, contributed a case study to this feature. ‘Will is a gentleman in his 70s who was referred to the local hospice complementary therapy outpatient clinic by the motor neurone disease (MND) specialist nurse, says Catherine.

‘He was referred to me at the local hospice with a view of providing an opportunity for him to relax, to learn coping strategies, to help him come to terms with his recent diagnosis and perhaps to ease his symptoms.  

‘Will was diagnosed with MND only six months ago. At the initial assessment he presented with good upper body function but described rapidly deteriorating lower body function, resulting in increasingly reduced mobility and difficulty performing simple tasks such as dressing. Will has bilateral foot and ankle oedema, consistent with his decreasing lower limb mobility. 

‘Will spoke of the shock of his diagnosis for himself and his family, as well as the practical implications of his rapidly changing physical abilities. Perhaps even more sadly, he spoke about how his expectations and aspirations in life were suddenly taken away. Will also had to instigate the selling of his business and re-locating to be closer to family members. He described how he now spent his days sitting and that he needed constant distraction to cope. He said he thought a course of reflexology sessions would help as it would give him something to look forward to. 

‘Gradually, through our course of sessions Will spoke about his frustration at being unable to perform the practical tasks that were an important part of his personal and business life. At other times he would simply say ‘I’m fine thank you’ before climbing straight onto the therapy couch. Tears were a regular release as he became more physically and emotionally relaxed. Normalisation and reassurance were given as the slower strokes of aromatherapy foot massage and reflexology continued, interchanged with foot holding, then followed with suggestions of relaxing breathing techniques and self-guided imagery. In such situations I find it best to allow disclosure to happen naturally, enabling the patient to talk when they feel that trust and familiarity have been developed. 

‘Despite weekly deterioration we agreed that it was important for Will’s sense of independence that he continued to transfer himself from scooter to couch, so I made sure that sufficient time was given for him to safely perform these tasks. 

‘In our fifth and final session, Will admitted that he had been able to fully relax and partially visualise a relaxing image. He said that the sessions had indeed given him something to look forward to during this overwhelming time.’

Catherine Wood, MFHT, has been a complementary therapist since 1994. Catherine has worked in hospice palliative care for 26 years, initially as a volunteer and working in her own private practice before becoming the Complementary Therapies Coordinator at Dove House Hospice in Hull, East Yorkshire in 2004.

FHT members can access the full Man Kind feature at

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