According to the American Rhinologic Society, sinusitis is the most common chronic illness in America with an estimated 35 million people affected. Those with repeated bouts have likely tried a range of over-the-counter and prescription drugs for relieving their sinus discomfort. However, sufferers may not realize that a massage therapist could potentially be their greatest ally in their battle against sinusitis.
In the acute stage of infectious sinusitis, massage therapy is systemically contraindicated. However, massage is appropriate for chronic and non-infectious cases of sinusitis, provided the client is comfortable. In general, acute sinusitis lasts for about three weeks; but it can persist for as long as three months. Chronic sinusitis lasts longer than three months and may not immediately respond to conventional antibiotic treatment. Symptoms of chronic sinusitis are less severe than those of acute, but can last for years.
Depending on the stage and cause of sinusitis, the symptoms differ slightly. Sinus symptoms are common during a cold or the flu, but this usually resolves when the infection does. More than just a stuffy nose, sinusitis symptoms are associated with one or more of the following:
- Nasal congestion/discharge that typically is thick and is yellowish to yellow-green.
- Facial pain, pressure, congestion or fullness that is accompanied by other symptoms of sinusitis.
- Symptoms that continue for 10 days or more after the start of a cold or flu.
- Symptoms worsen after five to seven days, or return after initial improvement in a cold.
- Diminished sense of smell.
- Fever accompanied by other sinusitis symptoms.
Other symptoms of sinusitis that usually occur in adults may include:
- Red, bulging or painful eyes
- A persistent cough
- Ear pain, pressure or fullness
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Dental pain
Because of the sinus’ proximity to the brain, there are some additional symptoms that constitute a medical emergency. These include:
- Eyelid swelling and drooping
- Loss of eye movement or vision changes
- Fixed and dilated pupils
- Severe headache with altered vision
- Mild personality or mental changes
- Soft swelling over a bony area in the face
Specific for a Massage Session
Massage therapists who are working with a client reporting sinusitis must first determine that it is not an acute, infectious case or a medical emergency. Once the client’s history confirms this, massage therapists can formulate their session plan. The following four bodywork techniques are known to help sinusitis by breaking up congestion, increasing circulation within the sinuses, aiding the lymph in removing sinusoidal debris and strengthening the immune system:
- Sinus Massage: To promote drainage and alleviate congestion, perform a sinus massage. You can use these directions as a guide – beginning from the midline, massage in small circles laterally on the forehead out to the temples, the base and sides of the nose out to the cheeks and ears and along the mandible from the chin out to the ears.
- Acupressure: Utilize the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) by applying pressure to the following acupoints – Urinary Bladder 2, Stomach 3, Stomach 8, Stomach 40, Gallbladder 20, Large Intestine 4, Large Intestine 20, Bi Tong, Yin Tang, Triple Warmer 17 and Governing Vessel 24.
- Cranial Sacral Therapy: Because it moves stagnant cerebrospinal fluid within the bones of the skull, cranial sacral techniques create an influx of circulation, which consequently eases sinus pressure. This technique is especially useful for head, jaw, eye and ear pain from chronic sinusitis.
- Lymphatic Drainage Massage: Because this manual technique stimulates the movement of lymphatic fluid, it helps the body thin out mucus. Especially when applied to lymph vessels in the head and neck, properly applied lymphatic drainage massage can reduce congestion and sinus pressure.
Whenever a massage therapist is working with clients who have sinusitis, there should be awareness of the following issues:
- Since there is no way to be sure that a client’s secretions are non-infectious, be extra vigilant about potential contagion by following universal precautions.
- Affected clients are likely to have difficulty breathing in the prone position. If your session involves back work, make sure it is brief and take steps for your client’s comfort.
- Chronic sinusitis sufferers may have inflammation that makes local massage painful. Continually check in with your clients to make sure that sinus massage or acupressure is not causing them pain.
- Bodywork will increase circulation and break up sinus congestion. To help move those toxins out of the body, advise your client to drink plenty of water following the session.
After repeatedly trying to get a handle on their congestion and pain, many sufferers have succumbed to the discomforts of chronic sinusitis. They may be in for a pleasant surprise when massage therapy brings them more relief than their primary physician ever could! By customizing a session with sinus massage, acupressure, lymphatic drainage and cranial sacral therapy, massage therapists can be the most important practitioner a chronic sinusitis sufferer ever entrusts with his or her care.
by- Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.