This year’s flu season got an early start and is more widespread and more severe than usual. We are just now halfway through a 12-week flu season that has already resulted in over 2200 hospitalizations.

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.

Why does your massage therapist want you to cancel your appointment and stay home when you are sick?

1) To protect her own health and the health of her other clients.

Should you have a viral infection like a cold or the flu, understand that when a therapist is giving you a massage, she is “nearby”. Furthermore, you are “nearby” other people present at the massage office when you visit, and are leaving virus on surfaces throughout the facility. Flu germs can spread up to 6 feet through coughs and sneezes, and can live up to 8 hours on surfaces. You are already contagious a day before you have symptoms, and 5 to 7 days beyond that.

If you have a massage appointment scheduled, and suspect you are coming down with a cold the flu, or are already experiencing symptoms (including a cough, and especially a fever), please call and cancel your appointment. I promise, your therapist will not be upset with you, nor will her other clients, whose health you are also endangering. Massage therapists are generally only paid for the massages they deliver – if you give your therapist your flu, you are costing her financially for all the sessions she must cancel while she stays home sick as well as inconveniencing all of those other clients. A simple flu could easily mean more than a week with no earnings. So if there’s any chance that you have something contagious, please contain your germs and stay home.

2) To protect YOUR health and help YOU recover faster.

If you get a massage when you are sick, it is said that massage will drive the sickness deeper. Why is that? Massage impacts your body similarly to exercise. Exercise is great, but you don’t do strenuous exercise when you are sick – your body is smart enough to rebel at the idea. Meditation is great, but you don’t do meditation in Taiji when you are sick. Massage is great, but you don’t get a massage when you are sick. Your body is already working very hard trying to fight the infection, which takes all the energy it has. It doesn’t need the additional stress of adapting to massage. If you overtax yourself, you are robbing your body’s immune system of the resources it needs to fight off your illness. Why take the risk of extending your illness or making yourself sicker?

Massage after recovery

On the other hand if you get a massage shortly after you have recovered, massage can help you push the leftover “yuck” out of your body. If you’ve been coughing, your rib muscles are probably a bit overtaxed and sore. Being sick and immobile makes the fascia all over the body stiffer and “stickier” and muscles that haven’t been sliding over each other through movement and mobilization don’t slide as smoothly. This is the “achy” of being sick. What feels great after you get well is a good medium pressure Swedish massage, perhaps with some cupping or tapotement on the back to clear your breathing, some gentle sidelying myofascial release over the ribs, and some lymph drainage massage for your upper chest, neck and head to help drain any fluid that made your face puffy, and generally provide some support to the immune system, of which the lymphatic system is a vital part. Swedish or Russian is better than Deep Tissue in this kind of recovery massage, as it is targeted to supporting circulation as opposed to optimizing structure. My Balance and Serenity massage style can incorporate all of these techniques.

Some recommendations for preventing colds and flu

Remember the 3 Cs

  • Clean – Wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Cover – Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue or sleeve, not your hand.
  • Contain – Contain your germs – stay home if you are sick.

Don’t run yourself ragged

Beyond the 3 Cs, natural health philosophies consider the following factors to lower bodily resistance and prepare the way for the virus to do its work if you are exposed:

  • Hidden infections and allergies
  • Poor diet, including overeating – Fresh real foods are needed for a strong immune system, especially foods high in vitamins A, B6, C and E. Consider including certain foods that are said to be particularly virus fighting/immune building, such as garlic, ginger, citrus, onions, mushrooms, apple cider vinegar, elderberry, cayenne and turmeric.
  • Overwork/stress – Cortisol, a stress hormone, destroys natural killer cells, the immune system’s first line of defense against invading illness. Stress reduction practices (massage, meditation, Taiji, Yoga) will help calm production of cortisol.
  • Insufficient sleep – Sleep is vital; it’s when our body undergoes restoration and when our hormones regulate the immune system. Be sure you are getting at least 7- 8 hours or sleep.
  • Lack of resistance from living in overheated and poorly ventilated rooms – Turn the heat down a little bit. It’s OK to wear a sweater in the winter.
  • Lack of sufficient outdoor exercise – You not only need the exercise itself, you need the exposure to the sun, and the challenge to your body of adapting to being outside for a while.

Things I personally do to stay healthy

Beyond being vigilant not to run myself ragged, personal practices that I feel help me avoid illnesses I am unknowingly exposed to include:

  • Washing my hands frequently with soap and warm water for a good 20 seconds, and avoiding touching my eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Taking adaptogens around the change of seasons when colds often occur, or whenever I’m aware that a “bug” is “going around”. Adaptogens are a category of herbs that are believed to enhance immune function. I personally like the herb Astragalus.

If I do get sick

Herbs I believe to be helpful when I get the first sign that a cold might be trying to settle in include Elderberry, Goldenseal and Echinacea. I also like Homeopathic Pelargonium sidoides for colds and I am a big believer in avoiding dairy to cut mucus, taking horseradish or garlic in foods, and getting plenty of tea and good hot soup (such as chicken broth made from cooking a whole chicken overnight in the crockpot). Note that this is my personal practice and not medical advice. If you are interested in herbal remedies, you should consult your doctor and do your own research to see if they would be right for you.

Some resources