A paper published last year in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork examined the idea of using massage therapy for Lyme disease symptoms such as pain, immune system dysfunction, and headaches. Since then, there have been articles published on rolfing for Lyme disease, and events held by massage therapists to demonstrate how to use these techniques for home-based relief from Lyme disease symptoms, so how can massage help?
The case study that features in the 2012 paper looked at a 21-year old woman diagosed with Lyme disease and who had pain, fatigue, and impaired concentration as artefacts of her illness. She was put on an alternating regime of massage therapy or no massage therapy for a 65-day period and was to report on the previously noted symptoms in a daily journal using visual analogue scales. Positive and negative effect scales were used immediately before and after each treatment session.
Proof that Massage Helps Relieve Lyme Disease Pain?
The results showed a decrease in symptoms during periods of therapy and an increase during non-therapeutic periods. However, the methodology here does not allow for the ruling out of a placebo effect, nor does it account for the potential benefit to the patient of simply interacting in a positive and mindful way with another person and with her body. This is also just a single report, not a significant clinical trial, making it impossible to form any broad opinion about massage therapy for Lyme disease.
What is Rolfing?
However, massage therapy may be a useful adjunct to standard therapy for Lyme disease in regards to managing pain and fatigue as well as improving cognitive and emotional symptoms through mind and body interaction. Other anecdotal evidence suggests that rolfing, a series of deep-tissue massages that aim to align different parts of the body, can help with Lyme disease symptoms. Founder of the technique, in the 1970s, Ida Pauline Rolf, called it ‘structural integration’ although the term ‘rolfing’ was popularised by her students.
How Rolfing Helps Lyme Disease
Rolfing works with the head, torso, arms, pelvis and legs, and is thought to benefit posture and movement, both things that can be adversely affected by Lyme arthritis and by depressive symptoms that can occur alongside the infection. This kind of therapy may help those with chronic pain to maintain mobility, reduce pain, and become less fearful of physical symptoms of Lyme disease and, thereby, improve quality of life.
Lyme Disease Therapy
Chronic neurological symptoms from nerve damage may occur in Lyme disease but most people infected with Borrelia can avoid this by having prompt treatment soon after a tick bite in order to use antibiotics to eradicate the infection. In chronic untreated Lyme disease, tissue damage may lead to joint pain, heart disease, cognitive deficits, liver problems, and a range of other issues. As well as accessing appropriate treatment to clear any persistent infection, those with chronic Lyme disease may wish to avail themselves of additional relief such as through massage therapy or rolfing.
Risks of Rolfing
Rolfing’s deep tissue techniques may initially produce an exacerbation of pain but proponents of the therapy then often report a reduction in overall pain, particularly at night, helping them to sleep better and experience improved overall health. There are some risks due to the intense nature of rolfing as deep tissue massage. Some people have experienced broken ribs, intense muscle pain, an exacerbation of pain, bruising, inflammation and so forth.
Massage for Lyme Disease Relief
It is important, therefore, to discuss the idea of deep tissue massage therapy for Lyme disease with your physician prior to going ahead, as it may help improve posture and mobility as well as reducing pain but could also prove disadvantageous. More gentle massage therapy may help patients who suffer from anxiety and pain to reconnect with their body and be mindful of it instead of concentrating on the pain and unwittingly making it feel more intense. As such, massage therapy for Lyme disease may help by way of the gate control theory of pain.
Meghan J. Thomason, BA, MT and Christopher A. Moyer, PhD, Massage Therapy for Lyme Disease Symptoms: a Prospective Case Study, Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2012; 5(4): 9–14.