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People around the globe equate visiting their doctor with getting antibiotics. In today’s age of emerging superbugs, doctors are still writing prescriptions for antibiotics at an unprecedented rate. While antibiotics can be life-saving, many health authorities are beginning to admit that these medications are often over-prescribed, creating problems worse than the original condition. Although advising for or against the use of medications is beyond a bodyworker’s scope of practice, there are several issues relating to antibiotics that all massage therapists should be aware of.

Antibiotic Resistance

Resistance to antibiotics is a major public-health problem. Because antibiotic overuse contributes to the rise of superbugs, experts have been calling on doctors to curb the liberal prescribing of antibiotics in many types of patients, including children with earaches, adults with sore throats and those with terminal end-stage disease. Although the medical ethics involved in preferential antibiotic dispensation are hotly debated among physicians, bodyworkers must take extra precautions when working with people who take, or have taken, these commonly dispensed drugs. Experts are increasingly recognizing that the evolution of stronger pathogens has a global impact, affecting the patient, their environment and all the people that come into contact with that patient or with their environment.

Impact on Bodywork

Clients typically come to bodywork sessions reporting current antibiotic use. While this isn’t always a contraindication, it does present concern demanding more information prior to treatment. Some questions about the antibiotics needing clarification include:

  • Why is your client taking antibiotics?
  • How long have they been on them?
  • Is there an infection?
  • Is the infection systemic or localized?
  • Is there a fever?

Before proceeding with massage therapy with a client on antibiotics, the bodyworker must evaluate the following:

  1. Will our session risk spreading the infection?
  2. Will this client put me or my environment at elevated risk for superbug exposure?
  3. Can I help the additional health issues resulting from antibiotic use?

Spreading the Infection

While there are many reasons a doctor might put their patient on antibiotics, a current infection is the most common. Because most forms of bodywork involve enhancing circulation, a therapist must determine if their work could spread infection. Since there are so many variables in pathogen strength and location, antibiotic strength and human response, there is no exact formula to determine this risk. In favor of bodywork for an infection, circulatory massage can actually assist the lymph and immune systems move pathogens out of body tissue.

Taking both perspectives into account, a therapist must use their best judgment to ascertain any potential risk of spreading the infection. In general, bodywork is considered safe if the client has been taking antibiotics for at least three days, the infection is not systemic and none of the signs of current infection are present: heat, fever, swelling or pain.

Superbug Exposure

Aside from living in a bubble, all of us are exposed to potentially drug-resistant organisms every day. As members of the healthcare industry, bodyworkers and their environment are particularly prone to pathogen exposure. Understanding this vulnerability is one more reason for bodyworkers to practice Universal Precautions with each and every client.

The importance of frequent hand washing must not be underestimated in healthcare environments. Thoroughly washing your hands before and after each session is the number one way to prevent passing superbugs along to yourself or other clientele. In addition, providing fresh linens for each client, cleaning door handles and keeping your own immune system healthy all contribute to the prevention of spreading infection.

Results of Antibiotics

Hopefully, properly prescribed and utilized antibiotic use destroys a person’s potentially dangerous bacterial infection. Whether this is the case or not, a majority of those taking antibiotics suffer from the annihilation of all organisms in their digestive tract.

Like pesticides, antibiotics kill good bugs along with the bad ones, especially the wide-spectrum antibiotics. The non-discriminating nature of most antibiotics disrupts the delicate balance of organisms in the gastrointestinal system by destroying beneficial bowel flora. These beneficial flora help us digest food, produce certain vitamins and prevent harmful bacteria and yeast from multiplying. Unfortunately, antibiotic use can invite parasitic infection, vitamin deficiencies, mineral loss through diarrhea, gut inflammation, malabsorption syndromes and food allergy development.

When this pattern of antibiotics destroying good and bad bacteria is recognized, bodyworkers can offer their clients hope. The following strategies are used by alternative healthcare practitioners to restore healthy bowel flora:

  1. Suggest taking a good quality probiotic to help restore balance in the gastrointestinal system.
  2. Tonifying certain acupressure points can stimulate a client’s immune and digestive systems. The most beneficial points for helping strengthen the gastrointestinal system include Large Intestine 11, Stomach 36 and Spleen 6.
  3. Encouraging clients to rejuvenate their immune system with good nutrition and plenty of rest to help their body resist the consequences of antibiotic use. Getting adequate vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from their diet and giving their cells time to recharge with restful sleep helps the digestive system bounce back from being cleaned out by antibiotics.

Whether it stems from cold and flu season, a toothache or an open wound gone bad, nobody likes to be sidelined with an infection. In an attempt to eliminate infections, most physicians habitually prescribe antibiotics. Bodyworkers aware of the possible problems caused by antibiotics are best prepared to help their patients taking these drugs. In addition to making certain their clients on antibiotics are well enough to receive massage, bodyworkers must practice Universal Precautions to reduce the spread of infection. On an even further level, bodyworkers can employ the three previously described strategies to help their clients cope with the destructive aftermath of antibiotic use.

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