Massage During Cold and Flu Season

It’s that time of the year when lousy weather drives us all inside to more easily share our various diseases with one another. Colds, flus, acute bronchitis, and pneumonia are spreading like wildfire right now so I’m going to put on my pathology teacher hat and talk about how to avoid getting and spreading these pathogens.

Should you make or keep a massage appointment?

I’m hearing a lot questions from clients who are either getting, in the middle of, or just getting over an infection about whether massage will help or cause more misery.

As a general rule of thumb if you are starting to feel bad or are experiencing the symptoms of one of these respiratory diseases massage will make you feel worse. Although gentle massage can be soothing I recommend you wait until your symptoms have passed before coming in for body work. Additionally you could make me sick as well which won’t make me or the clients I’d have to cancel very happy.

If your symptoms are mostly on the way out massage can worsen the symptoms for a few hours but may help your body recover more quickly.  Also, after the worst has passed there are body work techniques that can help drain stuffy sinuses and loosen lingering mucus in the lungs. Keep in mind you may still be contagious even if you’re not feeling bad, please let your therapist know if you’re getting over an illness.

I protect you during your appointment by washing my hands before and after each session and using hand sanitizer during the treatment to reduce potentially spreading disease. If I get sick I stay home and reschedule my appointments to avoid spreading infections to others.

A cold and flu primer:

Both the common cold and influenza are caused by viruses that love the mucus membranes of your nose, sinuses, and sometimes lungs. Viruses invade body cells and hijack them to turn them into virus making factories spreading themselves around and killing your cells in the process. They manage to do all of this despite not being living things, just some protein and genetic material.

Colds are relatively tame and might make you sniffle and cough for a bit, influenza is more serious causing fevers, body aches and other severe symptoms. For most viruses our immune system comes to the rescue although it may take some time for it to defeat the disease and all the while you’re feeling miserable. Once you’ve fought a cold or flu virus off (or been vaccinated) you may gain immunity to that particular strain that lasts from a few months to a lifetime.

These viruses (with a few notable exceptions) aren’t often terribly dangerous in and of themselves although in some cases influenza can be life-threatening. A more common hazard is the potential for another pathogen, a virus or bacteria, to take advantage of the immune system’s distraction and attack the lungs causing pneumonia, a serious and potentially lethal disease. Those at high risk for such a secondary infection are the very young, very old, or people with suppressed immune systems due to medication, organ transplant, or other disease.

How to prevent and manage colds and flus:

*Wash your hands well with warm water and regular soap and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer a lot, especially in public. These pathogens are hardy outside the body and can be picked up from doors, sinks, and other things that sick people have touched. Keep your hands clean and away from your face. Antibacterial soaps contain chemicals that may be harmful to the environment and increase the formation of bacteria resistant to them. They have not been shown to be more effective than regular soap, please don’t buy or use these products.

*Get the flu vaccine and if you are in a high-risk group for secondary infections, a pneumococcal vaccine. Serious adverse effects due to vaccination are extremely rare, in fact you’re more likely to get elected to congress, become an Olympic athlete or struck by lightning. Pneumonia however is the number one cause of hospitalization and the 8th leading cause of death in the US killing more than 50,000 people per year. For more information on vaccines click here.

*If you do get sick stay home, eat some good food, drink plenty of water, and binge something on Netflix. If it’s not possible to stay home wear a surgical mask to prevent spread to others.

*Keep yourself in good health. Exercise, healthy diet, proper stress management, and properly managing other diseases keeps your immune system humming.

A word on medications:

Antibiotics DO NOT treat viral infections including colds and flus. If you’re in a high-risk group they can help protect you from a secondary bacterial infection but they will not cure or abate the symptoms of the cold or flu. If you are prescribed an antibiotic take the entire dosage to ensure any bacterial infections are completely resolved. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics has led to the formation of dangerous bacteria that are untreatable by most or in some cases, all known antibiotics. Please use them wisely.

Over the counter meds can help with symptoms but overuse can make your infection longer and worse. Antihistamines can dry out the protective mucus in your respiratory tract making you more likely to get a secondary infection. Also, fevers work to boost immune system function, if they are not dangerously high they will help shorten your illness. Fevers lasting more than 3 or 4 days, fevers over 104 that last for more than a day or one with other severe symptoms should be seen by a doctor.

If taken early in the disease process Tamiflu can shorten the length of illness although not by much, some reports say only about a day.

Good luck out there, may the viruses stay away and your immune system be strong.

If you have any questions about the flu from pathology teacher Ali or massage therapist Ali please feel free to contact me. Stay well!