The movement of body fluids is essential to the maintenance of health – a key principle of osteopathy. Your immune system vessels don’t have a pump so they rely on muscular contraction and changes in pressure to move lymphatic fluid. Regular and frequent whole body movement keeps those fluids flowing freely.
My colleague, restorative exercise specialist Petra Fisher recently shared “How To Improve Your Immune System With Movement This Cold And Flu Season”. Worth reading! I have a few favourite moves too. But first, how can osteopathic treatment boost your immune system?
Both injuries and inactivity can create areas of contraction and compression in your muscles and fascia. Soft-tissue techniques can release the restrictions to increase blood and lymphatic fluid flow.
Your lymph nodes, thymus, bone marrow, and spleen are primary lymphoid organs. Tonsils and adenoids (if you still have them), liver and appendix, are also part of the system. Plus there’s lymphatic tissue in your intestines (Peyer’s patches) and mucous membranes. Visceral manipulation can improve the mobility of organs, their blood supply, and nervous system input.
Balance hormonal and nervous systems
Chronic stress can lead to hormonal imbalances that impair the function of other organs. Cranial osteopathy and articular techniques can balance the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) systems. In turn, this restores endocrine control of immune function.
What’s happening when you’re stressed is that your own body is giving itself multiple shots of that anti-inflammatory hormone [cortisol], and so that tunes down your immune system’s ability to do its job to fight infection.
– Esther Sternberg, MD
Full deep breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system. It also encourages fluid flow. Think of your diaphragm as a pump. Treatment can mobilize your diaphragm and ribcage for better breathing.
Lymphatic pumping techniques can stimulate the release of immune cells from lymph nodes. They also increase the flow of lymphatic fluid.
As always, the goal of osteopathic treatment is to enhance your body’s self-regulating mechanisms. Now, what can you do for yourself to boost your immune function?
My 4 Fave Immune Boosting Moves
1. ACTIVE RIB BREATHING: Assists lymphatic drainage throughout the body.
- Tie a stretchy band, exercise tubing or pair of tights around your ribcage at mid-chest level.
- Stand in alignment (feet pelvis width, outside edges parallel, hips over your heels with butt untucked and ribs relaxed down). Or sit with weight on your sit bones. Allow the front of your ribcage to relax down.
- Breathe in, expanding the sides and back of your ribcage into the resistance of the band. Pause, then exhale fully.
- Repeat for 5-10 breaths, several times throughout the day. CAUTION! If you start to feel dizzy, dial it back and focus on exhaling completely.
2. HEAD RAMPING: Targets cervical lymph nodes and the thoracic duct, your largest lymphatic drainage portal.
- As in the breathing exercise, start in aligned standing or sitting with your ribs relaxed down. Place your hand on your sternum (breastbone); it should be vertical.
- Tuck your chin back and up, elongating your neck and keeping your eyes level on the horizon. If you’re against a wall, you’re aiming for touching it with the back of your head.
- Your ear should stack up over your shoulder joint and the skin on the back of your neck should be wrinkle free.
- You should see (or feel) multiple chins!
3. SPINAL TWIST: Targets abdominal lymph nodes and organs. (Remember, the gut plays a role in immune defence too.)
- Lie on your back on the floor (a bed is too soft). If your bottom ribs are sticking up or you have diastasis recti, bolster your head and shoulders to relax your ribcage to neutral (aligned with your pelvis).
- Slide your pelvis a few inches to the right and bring your right knee in toward your chest until your hip is at 90 degrees.
- Slowly rotate your pelvis to the left (just to the point of muscle resistance). Use your bolster or yoga blocks to support your knee and foot at that height.
- Allow your abdomen and spinal muscles to relax. Your ribcage, shoulder, and arm can gently release back to the ground as far as possible while keeping your knee grounded and your ribs relaxed down.
- The twist should happen at the level of your navel. It’s like wringing out your waist.
- Repeat on the other side.
4. WALKING: Gets your whole body in on the action.
- Swinging your arms (focus on pulling them back then letting go) stimulates your axillary (armpit) nodes, while your legs activate those in the inguinal (groin) region.
- Need more motivation? Read why winter walking rocks!
Four simple moves for a whole body approach to immune boosting. Of course, there are many more ways to help yourself. But moving more and in better alignment is a great place to start.
Do you have a favourite immune boosting move? Or tip? Please let me know in the comments below.