It is common knowledge that the best things you can do to protect yourself from colds and flu this winter are to strengthen your immune system naturally with immune-boosting foods and nutritional supplements, adequate sleep, manage your stress levels and exercise at least 30 minutes daily to help to sweep white blood cells into circulation.
How can osteopathy help you to boost you immune system and fight common colds or flu? Most people think of osteopathic medicine for treatment of body aches and pains and musculoskeletal problems. Can it also help systemic complaints?
To answer that let’s go back to 1918, when the Spanish influenza outbreak was the first of its kind to have a variety of modern treatment approaches applied. In the United States, more than 28% of the population succumbed to the pandemic. The mortality rate in osteopathic hospitals (Osteopaths are fully licensed physicians in the US) was dramatically less than in other hospitals. Although there were no controlled studies, Osteopaths reduced patient mortality and morbidity by using lymphatic drainage and other osteopathic treatment techniques and thus achieved a high success rate.
How does it work? One of the philosophies of osteopathic medicine is the relationship between structure and function, which means that the structure of the body affects the functioning of various organs and body systems. For example, if there is a restriction somewhere in the body, the nervous, lymphatic and vascular systems are impaired, similar to a hose that is been squeezed. In the case of colds, flu, pneumonia and asthma, osteopathic manipulative treatment can enhance thoracic mobility and lymphatic drainage, as well as liver, spleen and abdominal organ function. These techniques are directed to stimulate the lymphatic flow, which is heavily involved in immunity, to decrease congestion and to free physical restriction that could reduce organ function.
Another benefit of manipulative methods is that they encourage the self-regulating mechanism of the body. We know the interconnection between the different systems of the body. For example under high stress our sympathetic nervous system activates and increases adrenal function. In the long term this hormonal imbalance can lead to another organ or system failure, such as cardiovascular diseases. The body’s homeostasis (intrinsic self-regulatory mechanism) is out of balance and disease can follow.
Osteopathy also helps to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity. The sympathetic nervous system, or “fight / flight” response, is activated during times of stress. Although initially usefully turned on to answer an eminent danger, it is often overstimulated in stressful modern life. Consequently the over dominance of our sympathetic nervous system can lead to adrenal stress, which in turn decreases the immune function of other organs. Managing your stress levels, allowing yourself moments when you can unwind, having regular massages or treatments, practicing deep abdominal breathing and sleeping qualitatively all help to balance the sympathetic and the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) systems. This is paramount in maintaining hormonal balance and optimal immune function.
By diagnosing and treating motion restrictions and increased tension within your body, the Osteopath helps you to restore mobility and to activate the therapeutic process that brings about healing and homeostasis. Specific manoeuvres to ‘mobilise’ nerves also supports immune function. This is supported by exercise and relaxation methods.
Have you ever felt increased vitality after an osteopathic treatment? Have you ever wonder why your whole body and mind were alert and ready to conquer the world? By rebalancing the nervous system, by restoring the motion in your joints and organs and enhancing their function, your body’s function and equilibrium are optimized. In conjunction with a balanced lifestyle, osteopathic manipulative medicine can help you reach an optimal state of health. So next time you see your osteopath, think beyond the muscles aches and pain!
Happy winter, stay warm, mobile and relaxed!
François Naef, Osteopath