What is APS therapy?
Action potential simulation is a complementary therapy which some people use as a treatment for pain in MS. It’s available at some MS Therapy Centres in the UK.
How does APS therapy work?
Action potential is the term used to describe the moment when signals – tiny bursts of electricity – are transmitted along your nerves, sending messages to different parts of your body. The electrical current used in APS therapy works to relieve pain by recreating (simulating) these signals.
APS therapy involves having electrodes (small adhesive patches) attached to your skin which transmit very small electrical currents through your body. The location of the electrodes depends on where in your body you experience pain. The electrodes are connected to a small machine. The treatment usually takes around 30 minutes and requires you to sit next to the machine while the electrodes deliver the electrical currents. The treatment doesn’t hurt and is considered to be safe.
You usually have two to three sessions per week for the first six weeks. After this period further sessions are required to maintain pain relief. The number of sessions per week is usually reduced (eg to once a week) depending on how long the effects last for you.
A visit to an APS therapy clinic
Here MS nurse, Miranda Olding and APS therapist, Heather Raisin explain what APS therapy is, how it works and what's involved in having the treatment.
We also hear from some people with MS who explain what a difference APS therapy has made to their lives.
How can APS benefit people with MS?
Anecdotally, some people find it helps with pain but it’s not an effective treatment for everyone. Some people have also reported improvements in sleep quality, fatigue, muscle stiffness and spasms, mobility and mood.
APS therapy has helped tremendously with my trigeminal neuralgia. I can’t begin to describe how nice it is not to have that pain coming back all the time. It’s amazing. I can brush my teeth, I can eat what I want. The pain that was there nearly all the time before, I haven’t felt for a long time now.
– Cathy, person with MS
The reason I have APS therapy is because I was losing all of the sensation in my feet. Now I get pins and needles in them. It’s been a godsend to be honest. Having this done today means I’ll be able to feel my feet again and stop falling over as much.
– Sue, person with MS
I’ve noticed that coming twice a week really helps me with my fatigue. When I’ve had APS therapy I’ve got more energy. If I miss a day I really notice it, I get really tired again. It also helps with the pins and needles in my right side. They were starting to go into my left leg but they seem to have subsided and it’s much better. Sometimes they’re not there at all.
– James, person with MS
Are there any side effects?
If you don’t drink enough fluid when having APS therapy you may experience headaches. It's recommended that you drink around 1.5 litres of water a day throughout the course of treatment (that’s every day, not just on the days you’re having the treatment) to ensure your body is properly hydrated.
Who is it suitable for?
APS therapy is suitable for people with MS experiencing nerve pain and musculoskeletal pain.
Ideally you should be able to drink the recommended 1.5 litres of water a day when having APS therapy.
It’s not recommended in people who have epilepsy, active cancer, are pregnant or who have a pacemaker. It’s also not recommended if you’ve had a stroke, heart attack, deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism in the last three months.
Where can I have APS therapy?
APS therapy is available at some MS Therapy Centres around the UK – a full list of the centres offering it can be found here. You can search for your nearest therapy centre, and find their contact details, on our map of MS services.
It’s also possible to buy your own APS therapy machine and use it at home although we understand this can be expensive.
Robust, high quality research investigating APS therapy as a treatment for pain in people with MS is lacking at present.
However a small, two year pilot study has shown positive results. The study was carried out at an MS therapy centre and included 60 participants – 57 of whom had MS – who were experiencing neuropathic pain (e.g. pins and needles, burning and tingling sensations) or musculoskeletal pain (e.g. joint and back pain). Participants received an eight week course of APS therapy, which included up to three sessions per week, and were asked to score their pain levels and sleep quality.
47 out of 60 people (78%) experienced a significant reduction in pain. Participants also reported improvements in sleep quality and quantity, mobility, fatigue, and muscle stiffness and spasm. The study found that the effects on neuropathic pain reduced over time, therefore regular treatment with APS may be needed to retain pain relief (this study suggests every seven days). The effects of APS therapy on musculoskeletal pain were found to be longer lasting.
Overall the study found APS therapy to be safe and effective. There are certain limitations to this particular study however, such as the small number of participants, the lack of a control group and risk of bias due to data being collected by the treatment team at the therapy centre; nevertheless, the results are promising.
Results from research investigating APS therapy in other conditions, such as fibromyalgia and knee osteoarthritis, have been mixed.
- 2016 (accessed online 04/07/19) Full article Action potential simulation therapy (APS therapy) for pain in people with MS: report on a two year pilot study.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) refers to treatments that are not widely in use in conventional medicine, such as acupuncture and yoga.