Osteoporosis is a pathological condition characterized by weakening of the bones, and approximately 44 million Americans either have it or are at high risk. When applied carefully, gentle forms of bodywork can help reduce the pain associated with osteoporosis and may even improve this degenerative condition.
Leading to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures, osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. Osteoporotic bones are so weakened that a minor fall or even a sneeze can cause a break. Considered a major public health threat, an estimated 10 million Americans are currently living with osteoporosis while an additional 34 million are at high risk due to low bone mass. Although it is more common in the elderly, osteoporosis can affect people of all ages.
Osteoporosis Pain and Massage
Often taking months to heal, osteoporosis is known to facilitate painful bone fractures. A fracture typically mends within three months; however the pain may persist long afterwards. Implemented after the break has healed, massage therapy is an effective way to relieve this type of chronic pain.
To relieve the pain and stiffness that characterizes chronic pain, Swedish massage techniques can enhance blood circulation to the affected musculature. While Swedish massage can be very effective in helping those with osteoporosis, solely using gentle pressure is crucial for these individuals. Deep, firm massage should never be done near the spine of a person who has spinal osteoporosis. In A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, Ruth Werner gives this advice,
“In the treatment of clients with osteoporosis, the appropriateness of massage varies from person to person. The only way massage could worsen the situation would be to exert undue mechanical force, which could lead to the possibility of fractures. On the other hand, consider the condition of the muscles of someone with osteoporosis: massage can offer a great deal of symptomatic relief, even if it cannot reverse the degeneration of the bone tissue. In any case, caution is the key with this condition.”
In addition to it being one of the gentlest forms of bodywork, cranial-sacral therapy harbors an additional therapeutic benefit for osteoporosis. Cranial-sacral therapy’s ability to enhance circulation around the spinal cord makes it especially favorable for maintaining skeletal health.
Our bones are constantly reforming to adjust to life’s demands. The process of bone tissue’s reabsorption by specialized cells and bone replacement with new tissue is a continual, evolving event. In fact, experts estimate that the human skeleton is completely renewed approximately every 10 years.
One of the reasons for osteoporosis is an imbalance between bone reabsorption by osteoclasts and new bone production by osteoblasts. When bone reabsorption occurs at a rate higher than new bone tissue creation, the hallmarks of osteoporosis occur: bone thinning and demineralization. Because cranial-sacral therapy enhances cerebrospinal fluid mobility, the environment for osteoblasts to function is optimized. Thus, cranial-sacral therapy is a valid approach for reducing the thinning and weakening of bone tissue.
Combining Swedish massage and cranial-sacral therapy gives bodyworkers a two-pronged approach to help people with osteoporosis. Reducing muscular tension with Swedish massage techniques can ease the chronic pain following an osteoporotic fracture.
Mobilizing fluid circulation around the spinal column with cranial-sacral therapy fosters a healthy balance of bone reabsorption and formation. Thus, bodyworkers employing both methods can help prevent the perpetuation of degrading bone mass and reduce the persistent pain associated with osteoporosis.
http://www.massagetherapy.com/articles/index.php/article_id/1254, Resonant Frequencies of the Spine, June Lesley Wieder, DC, Retrieved July 14, 2008, Massage & Bodywork, October/November 2006.
http://www.massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php?id=13321, Taming Osteoporosis, John Upledger, DO, OMM, Retrieved July 16, 2008, Massage Today, November 2005.
http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/pain.asp, Osteoporosis: Coping with Chronic Pain, Retrieved July 16, 2008, National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, 2008.
http://www.nof.org/osteoporosis/diseasefacts.htm, Fast Facts on Osteoporosis, Retrieved July 16, 2008, National Osteoporosis Foundation, 2008.
Werner, Ruth, A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, 3rd Edition, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA, 2005: 77.