Asthma is a reversible obstructive lung disease caused by increased reaction of the airways to various stimuli. The exact cause of asthma remains unknown, but current theories suggest genetic and environmental factors.
Our understanding of asthma has changed dramatically over the last decade. Previously asthma was viewed as a bronco-constrictive disorder in which the airways narrowed. Treatment with bronchodilators to open airways was the primary focus. Scientific evidence now supports the idea that asthma is primarily an inflammatory disorder in which the constriction of airways is only a symptom of the underlying inflammation.
Asthma may be categorised as conventional asthma, occupational asthma or exercise-induced asthma (EIA). Since the triggers or allergens vary, each person reacts differently. Shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in the chest are the most commonly reported symptoms. Also listen for:
How osteopathy can help:
As osteopaths focus on treating and resolving the cause of the problem as opposed to simply treating the symptoms, the patient must try to eliminate all possible factors that may trigger asthma. Increasingly pollution and smoke are recognised as triggers. Other allergies such as dust mites, animal hair, feathers, dust, pollen and certain foods are relevant in some cases. Psychological or emotional stresses are also triggers for asthma in vulnerable people, just as exposure to cold air or sudden temperature change also. In fact exercise-induced asthma can potentially be prevented by exercising in a moist, humid environment and by grading exercise according to patient tolerance.
Each asthmatic patient must be assessed individually and most cases are amenable to osteopathic treatment. Mild asthma may be caused by delayed recovery from a chest infection. The strenuous exercise of coughing can cause the muscles and rib articulations of the chest to become very tight and restricted. This prevents the lungs from being used to capacity and delays the elimination of retained mucus, resulting in a prolonged cough or feeling of breathlessness on exercise.
Osteopathic treatment for asthma is aimed at improving the function of the chest, thoracic and cervical areas and at reducing general body tensions and stresses, such as retained cranial pressure or postural misalignment that may undermine the general health. Overall the aim is to build up a margin of health reserve in the individual so that an asthma attack is not triggered by minor events.
Asthmatic children often exhibit signs of retained birth compression, they are often mouth breathers and may also have suffered some foetal distress (caused by a lack of oxygen) during birth. The control centres for respiration are well protected during birth, but they can be affected by long term effects of compression within the base of the skull. Gentle cranial techniques can be used to ease this and often improve a childs eating, sleeping and behavioural patterns. Such compression can reduce the blood flow to the respiratory centres of the brain very slightly; enough to disturb the normal control of respiration and aggravate an asthmatic tendency.
In asthma, the chest becomes very stressed due to the increased muscular effort needed to breathe. In more severe cases, this alters the development of the rib cage to a classic barrel shape. Most of the respiratory effort needed to breathe is directed to breathing IN, and the ability to breathe OUT is often poor. Treatment to render the rib cage more supple and able to breathe in and out with less effort will often ease a chronic asthmatic state.
Osteopathic treatment may be sufficient to relax the muscles and improve the flexibility of the chest, thus increasing lung capacity. This offers a simple alternative to the use of steroid inhalers.
More severe asthma cannot be eliminated completely by osteopathic treatment, but there is much that can be done to help relieve the effects and reduce the amount of inhalers necessary. After all, who wants to be taking steroids most of their life (which can weaken bone growth), when there are more natural ways to ease suffering?