The ongoing impact of Covid-19 is challenging for all as, but for those suffering from Long Covid it is particularly concerning as to date, there is little known about this growing health phenomenon. The road to recovery for Long Covid sufferers appears to be a process of many up and downs with an array of varied symptoms posing emotional and physical daily challenges, often more common than previously thought or heard about. However, there is hope with some recent research into how massage can help.
Who are the Long Covid Sufferers?
In guidelines for clinicians, published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), two definitions of post-acute COVID-19 are given:
- Ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 for people who still have symptoms between 4 and 12 weeks after the start of acute symptoms.
- Post-COVID-19 syndrome (or Long COVID) for people who still have symptoms for more than 12 weeks after the start of acute symptoms.
These lingering symptoms can include any and all of the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Brain fog and memory problems
- Altered or loss of taste and/or smell
- Joint Pain
- Persistent Cough
- Chest tightness or pain
- Heart Palpitations
- Joint pain and numbness
- Digestive issues
Long COVID can present with clusters of symptoms that are often overlapping and/or fluctuating such as ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. For some, the effects of Covid-19 seems to linger for months after the virus leaves their bodies with many still experiencing symptoms including fatigue and shortness of breath nearly a year later. However, in my experience the major overriding symptom or awareness appears to be that of a constant feeling of stress and/or anxiety.
The exciting link between massage and boosted white blood cells
But there is good news for recovery, current research from the University of Roehampton in London has revealed that a simple massage reduces anxiety and boosts your immune system, helping to fight infection and disease by increasing your white blood cell count – crucial in the function of our immune system and fighting infections.
The research into the link between massage and white blood cells was initially prompted after a study that found patients with HIV had a boosted white cell count after receiving massage. As HIV is a disease that attacks the immune system and specific white blood cells called T-Lymphocytes, these finding were seen as extremely important.
In a recent BBC documentary called ‘Trust Me I’m a doctor’, a leading immunologist; Professor Fulvio D’Acquisto asked seven volunteers to experience a massage to see if massage treatments could have the same effect on people who don’t have serious immune conditions.
- A blood sample was taken from each volunteer and analysed for the number of T-Lymphocytes which served as a baseline reading.
- Volunteers were then asked to lie down and relax for hour before taking another blood sample as a control reading. This was to make sure the experiment could show that any changes in the white blood cell count were due to massage and not simply an hour of relaxation.
- The volunteers then had an hour’s full body massage before taking a third and final blood test
The encouraging results showed a massive 70% increase of white blood cells following a one-hour massage. This was a much higher result than they found after relaxing for an hour.
It was found that because white blood cells are stored in certain glands which are connected to the skin through nerves, a massage serves to stimulate the nerves, allowing these glands to release white blood cells into the body’s circulation. T-lymphocytes perform various functions in the body involved with growth and repair, which could explain why massage has been reported to help with so many conditions.
Treating anyone in need of nurturing and offering a compassionate touch that invites the nervous system to pause and re charge has always been a primary focus of my work, regardless of the condition. Having now had the opportunity to work with many ‘Covid-19 long haulers’ it is evident that a targeted therapeutic approach utilising massage and aromatherapy can influence a highly reactive nervous system into a state of calmness, bringing much needed relief and in some cases, helping to shorten the pathway to recovery.
Depending on your needs, primarily a treatment strategy that focuses on decreasing anxiety combined with massage, breath work and aromatherapy seems to be an effective and deeply relaxing approach. Aromatherapy is a well researched complementary therapy, which uses essential oils derived from plants and flowers. It is designed to treat the whole body, and it aims to assist with the body’s natural ability to heal and recover from stress and illness. It is one of the most popular complementary therapies, with essential oils used to treat and prevent illness, as well as encourage rest and relaxation at your own unique pace.
Links and further reading:
Could massage boost your immune system?
Aromatherapy: Do essential oils really work?