Spring is in full bloom, which for some means watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing. Massage therapy has been shown to help with the symptoms that accompany seasonal allergies.
How Massage Helps Relieve the Symptoms
David Lies, a massage therapist in Wichita, Kansas, remembers his honeymoon well: The lush, nascent flowers and trees of early May in Eureka Springs, Arkansas; time relaxing with his new wife, Linda; the rustic honeymoon cottage—and his allergies, triggered by the colorful blooms around him. “I used to say that I was allergic to everything under the sun,” Lies says.
Lies discovered an unexpected ally in his allergy battle: The honeymoon cottage’s landlord, who was also a massage therapist. “He offered to give my wife and me massages,” says Lies, who finally said yes when his swollen eyes, nonstop sneezing and coughing fits started to put a damper on his honeymoon.
Lies remembers the horrible pain as the therapist dug his elbow into his back along the muscles and trigger points long contracted from coughing, sneezing and related stress. Just as he was about to cry uncle, the therapist removed his elbow—or so Lies thought as he thanked him. His wife, who was watching the session, laughed. “He hasn’t moved his elbow at all,” she told Lies. The muscles had simply finally relaxed.
After the massage, Lies made it through the week with just a few sniffles, his first nondrug-induced relief in years. He returned to Wichita inspired, enrolling in massage school and eventually opening A Servant’s Hands, a full-service massage therapy clinic with a special interest in allergies.
Relaxing the Symptoms
Many Americans rely primarily on conventional approaches, including antihistamines and steroids, both of which can have some adverse side effects. Massage therapists, however, can help relieve some allergy symptoms by reducing stress, increasing circulation, releasing muscle tension and reprogramming the body’s panic reaction, which can exacerbate symptoms.
"It’s not to take away from the biological, inflammatory component of the disorder,” says Rosalind Wright, MD, a pulmonist on staff at the Harvard Medical School. “But if you use complementary modalities, including massage therapy, you could optimize the results.”
Few studies researching massage therapy and allergy relief exist, but we do know massage helps with stress, as shown in the 1992 Touch Research Institute study where 30-minute body massages on depressed adolescents decreased saliva cortisol levels. And stress definitely impacts allergies. A 2008 Harvard Medical School study co-authored by Wright showed that mothers-to-be who expose their unborn children to stress may increase these kids’ vulnerability to allergies and asthma.
So, just getting clients to relax may help their allergies. “Most experienced massage therapists know the immediate relief from sinus congestion that can result from just lying face down,” Lies says. This position gives you a chance to work on the upper back and shoulders, where many sinus trigger points are located.
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Source: Parts of this article were excerpted from Clare La Plante's piece in mtj® (Massage Therapy Journal®) Summer 2009. Subscribe to read the entire article.