Osteoporosis is a generally painless condition characterized by the thinning of the bone structures of the body. The tissues of your body – including bone tissue – are constantly breaking down and replacing old, worn out cells with new, fresh ones. Osteoporosis occurs when the bone tissues fail to replace the dead tissue in a timely manner. The bones become weak and brittle, making the patient more prone to fractures and break. Even simple activities like coughing or moving a certain way can cause a fracture.
Although it is a disease that affects all genders and races, it is mostly seen in post-menopausal white and Asian women. Genetics also plays a role in whether or not you may get osteoporosis, and so does the size of your frame. This is a pathology most often seen in smaller-framed people. Hormones also play a role. Lowered sex hormones are often seen in people with osteoporosis, but so are overactive thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands. Lifestyle and medications taken are factors as well.
While osteoporosis itself is not painful, the fractures and breaks that it causes will be. Often times, patients experience back pain associated with a fractured or collapsed vertebra before they are even aware that they have the condition. Another common area for fractures is in the wrist. Other symptoms include loss of height over time and stooped posture.
Treatment for osteoporosis depends on what exactly is the cause. If lowered or overactive hormones are a factor in your osteoporosis, your doctor will most likely treat you with hormone therapy. He may also recommend a type of bisphosphonate, which is a drug that prevents the loss of bone mass. A patient may also be asked to make changes to her diet, quit smoking, and decrease alcohol intake.
So where does massage therapy fit into all of this? Many patients with osteoporosis may be fearful of receiving a massage, given how easy it is for them to break a bone. Likewise, many massage therapists may feel uneasy giving a patient with osteoporosis a massage. There would be obvious precautions needed for a massage therapist to treat a patient with osteoporosis. Deep work would be prohibited, and the movement of joints would need to be done with care.
The best form of massage for a patient with this pathology would be a gentle Swedish massage. When a bone breaks, all of the structures around it become stressed, including the muscles. Feeling so fragile is probably emotionally stressful as well. A gentle massage can reduce emotional stress, and get rid of stress in the muscle tissues surrounding the injured area – after the break has fully healed, of course. Massage also increases blood flow throughout the body, which is vital for transporting nutrients to muscles and bone tissues. As with all bodies, those affected by osteoporosis can benefit from postural re-education with massage, as massage will help to release the muscles holding your skeleton in a stooped position.
As always, it is important to remember that massage should not be considered an alternative form of treatment for any pathology – it is only complimentary. You should always follow the advice given by your primary care physician. The amount of appropriateness of massage for patients with osteoporosis varies depending on the advancement of the pathology, so it is important to check with your doctor before receiving massage to avoid injury. Your massage therapist is not a doctor and cannot tell you whether or not your osteoporosis is too advanced to receive massage, so please, please, please talk to your doctor before receiving a massage!
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