Osteopathy and Your Immune System

As the Coronavirus-19 Pandemic descends on the inhabitants of Mother Earth, it becomes clear that maintaining the immune system is the key to maintaining health and longevity.  There are many articles, podcasts, webinars, Instagram posts etc. about how best to keep your immune system strong.  Our bodies were designed to withstand a daily barrage of pathogens (ranging from viruses to bacteria, parasites and more) but weakened defenses can’t get the job done.  The foods you eat, the sleep you get, the stress you feel, the exercise you do all play a major role. But some aren’t getting the message….during a recent trip to the supermarket, the 5-pound bags of sugar were wiped out. Gone!  Just like the bread and toilet paper, (and thankfully many of the green leafy vegetables). Sugar is one of the worst disruptors of your immune system and Americans consume it by the cup-full, going through several pounds or more in a week!  This is a great time to reassess our consumption of sugar in particular as we wait, with the social distancing required to keep us safe.   

Osteopathic Medicine has long utilized techniques to boost immune function by helping stimulate the lymphatic system–your body’s trash system that eliminates waste, toxins and other unwanted substances.  The lymphatic system is a complex network of vessels and organ tissue (like lymph nodes, thymus, spleen etc) which serves as the pathway for lymph to work and travel, carrying components of the immune system like white blood cells.   So it’s important to have it functioning well.

The lymphatic system can be blocked by mechanical obstructions like muscle spasm, soft tissue distortion and bone obstruction, as well as affected by other metabolic conditions.  Many types of practitioners address this system. You might know of a massage therapist who specializes in post-mastectomy care, or a physical therapist who helps an elderly patient with lymphedema.  When the body is generating more “trash” or has a backup in the pathway, mechanical techniques can help move things along, enabling the whole system to work better.  

Osteopathic physicians often teach these Osteopathic techniques to parents so they can use them for their sick kids to reduce the need for antibiotics, office visits and decrease the duration of illness.  In reality they can be used on all ages. There is no time like the present. At the slightest sign of illness, helping the lymphatic system can be very beneficial. 

The best way to learn these techniques is to see them in action, so I’ll link to some videos from Youtube.com, screened by me for appropriateness.  Reasons for you to avoid using these techniques would be acute heart failure, a new/healing broken bone in any of the areas to be touched, acute illness requiring emergency/hospital care, and current treatment for cancer.  Do not use these techniques if someone is visibly short of breath as that individual needs hospital level care immediately. If you are unsure, please check with your own Osteopathic physician first or just don’t perform the techniques. They can each be done three times a day, then decreased to one or twice a day as the patient starts to recover.

The Osteopathic Lymphatic Techniques

Thoracic and Pedal Pump (the best all-purpose lymphatic techniques)

Eustachian Tube drainage (for head congestion, clogged ears)

Pectoral Traction (for bronchitis, chest congestion and head congestion)

Rib Raising (for all upper respiratory illness not requiring hospital level care)

An interesting side note: 

Many Osteopaths talk about the great success that Osteopathic Physicians had during the Spanish Influenza Pandemic in 1918, with regard to keeping their Osteopathically-treated patients at less risk for death from the disease.

An article written in 1920 by R.K. Smith suggested a mortality rate of one-fortieth those patients treated conventionally.  It is often cited as proof of effectiveness of Osteopathic Techniques, but would not hold up to the rigors of scientific evaluation today because the information was gathered in a retrospective survey manner which is more anecdotal than scientific. However, the profession continues to teach, perform and research lymphatic techniques to help with a variety of conditions and they are helpful. They are gentle, have few contraindications (see above) and can benefit people of all ages.  They are at their best when combined with other Osteopathic techniques that address specific issues unique to the patient, but can be used as a stand-alone form of mechanical care and combined with pharmaceutical, herbal, essential oil, homeopathic treatments. 

For those interested, here are some links that discuss Osteopathic care for epidemics/pandemics:

Osteopathic manipulative treatment for pandemic influenza: many questions, few answers

Avian influenza: an osteopathic component to treatment

The 2012-2013 Influenza Epidemic and the Role of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine