First of all let me explain a little bit about asthma.
Unfortunately there is actually no known cause of asthma. However, it is known that Asthma sufferers have extremely sensitive airways that become inflamed, this inflammation in turn causes mucus build up in the airways that then restricts the airflow through them. Irritants that trigger the inflammation can come in many different forms like pollen, car fumes, pollution, animal fur, dust mites, feathers, damp or mould and even a change in weather. Just to make matters worse asthma isn’t just triggered by external factors (stuff outside of the body) it can also be caused by internal triggers such as laughter or stress. Even some pain killers – particularly aspirin or ibuprofen can cause irritation and worsen the symptoms of asthma.
There is also something called work related asthma that can be triggered by substances that you may be exposed to at work. It is also known as occupational asthma and some of these triggers include chemicals, latex, flour or grain dust, wood dust or even fumes from soldering. Now I know that sounds like a lot of things that can trigger asthma and you are right it is, but a lot of people don’t realise they have asthma when they show very subtle symptoms like a prolonged tickly cough when they get nervous or start a new job. So it’s good to know that there are many triggers out there that are not just caused by pollen or smoke. My brother in law was annoying everyone in the family for months with a subtle cough until I said to him “hey! You’ve had this cough for a while now haven’t you? You know you might have asthma” I knew he was traveling to Australia soon to start a new career so the nerves could have been causing it. Turns out I was right, He did have asthma. Not all heroes wear capes, just Osteopath on their name badges.
So how can osteopaths help then?
An osteopath is trained to evaluate systems of the body and will first take a detailed history of the patient looking out for any signs and symptoms to make an informed diagnosis, secondly the Osteopath performs an observational assessment looking at how the chest is moving, look for any asymmetry in the rib movement or muscle tone and observe overall posture. Listen for wheezing, crackling, popping, dullness and change in resonance within the lungs and airways and even perform a peak flow test.
Osteopaths can then feel how the rib-cage is moving, feel for restrictions or rigidity. Check that the diaphragm is moving optimally as this is a major breathing muscle, examine the upper areas of the spine for any stiffness or tenderness in the joints and muscle as this is the area of the body that is surrounding the lungs and airways. It is also very important to assess the accessory muscles of respiration, those that are used in stressed or laboured breathing. These are muscles at the front of the neck and top of the shoulders. The joints and muscles of the neck should also be examined as well as facial muscles which will often be overworked and may cause sinus problems.
The overall goal is to improve respiratory function. Improve the mobility of the rib-cage by using a variety of specific techniques including movements of joints, stretching tissues and mobilisation of muscular tissue. Frequently focusing on releasing tension from the diaphragm is optimal when treating patients with Asthma as the diaphragm is a large muscle that attaches to our ribs, spine and has multiple vital structures that pass through it. When we breathe in, the diaphragm contracts to increase space for our lungs to expand and allow more oxygen in. If the diaphragm is dysfunctional it may even be a cause of constipation, IBS, fatigue, shoulder and back pain as it is closely related to the digestive and cardiovascular system.
Finally the neck has neurological influences to the lungs and the diaphragm and consequently should be focused on in treatment to improve musculo-skeletal strain from asthma alongside accessory respiratory muscles. Techniques may also be included to release sinus congestion and help clear any additional mucus build-up.
Now if that isn’t a valuable Osteopathic treatment for asthma sufferers I don’t know what is. It’s best to get treatment as soon as possible for Asthma as the longer it goes on the increased impact it can have on the different systems mentioned earlier and unfortunately can cause further complications.
Osteopathy offers a musculo-skeletal element to the treatment of asthma, which is not addressed by pharmacology and can be very effective when used in cooperation with prescribed medication.