Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs characterized by inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which leads to wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. In 2010, 300 million people worldwide were affected by this condition and, in the previous year, 250,000 died from asthma-related causes. Despite advances in the medical treatment of asthma, the prevalence of sufferers has been increasing since the 1970s.
When we breathe, a wide variety of muscles are involved in expanding the chest cavity to bring air into the body. These include the diaphragm and intercostal muscles between the ribs, as well as several other muscle groups in the chest and upper back. With this being the case, it is not surprising that any tightness in the upper body caused by injury or postural problems will have an adverse effect on the ease and effectiveness of breathing. Slight amounts of muscular tension and spinal misalignment may go unnoticed in a healthy person, but for someone with already restricted breathing, any further obstacle to taking a breath adds to the difficulty in bringing sufficient oxygen into the body.
Chiropractic treatment for asthma uses traditional chiropractic methods of manipulation and soft tissue massage in order to increase the mobility of the ribs and reduce any postural problems and tension that might obstruct the breathing process. Healthy spinal function, which is one of the aims and benefits of chiropractic care, also reduces stress, which is known to be a trigger that worsens asthma symptoms and which may lead to an asthma 'attack' (the acute exacerbation of symptoms typically experienced as chest tightness and fighting for breath). Chiropractors can also offer advice on exercises and lifestyle choices to promote healthy breathing and reduce asthma symptoms.
A recent paper in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association reviewed the current literature on chiropractic treatment of asthmatic patients, which included two randomized controlled trials. The evidence from this review suggests that chiropractic treatment may have a positive effect on observed symptoms and regularity of medication use as well as the measurement of peak flow (the force of exhalation) and other objective measurements. The paper concluded that, while it is in no way intended as a replacement for conventional asthma medication, chiropractic treatment could definitely be seen as a useful addition to primary health care. Although not all patients were found to benefit from chiropractic care, there were no cases in which symptoms exacerbated through treatment by a chiropractic doctor.
As chiropractic treatment is a holistic therapy, it helps to restore health to the whole body and not just the back and spine. This is especially true in the case of conditions such as asthma, in which postural problems and muscle tension can adversely affect the breathing process and exacerbate existing symptoms. With this in mind, chiropractic care can be a useful therapy for a wide range of conditions.