Pulmonary fibrosis is an inflammatory condition that results in thickening and scarring in the air sacs and surrounding areas in the lungs. When the scarring progresses, it leads to breathing difficulties and a reduced ability of the lungs to deliver oxygen to the bloodstream. There is no known treatment for this progressive condition. So many people turn to alternative, natural ways to improve their feeling of wellness and quality of life, as well as their mental and physical state. Working with healthcare professionals to potentially incorporate complementary therapies can help patients better manage factors such as stress, tension, and chronic pain. The following are some alternative and complementary therapies that may be useful for people coping with pulmonary fibrosis, including acupuncture, acupressure, massage therapy, meditation and mindfulness, and chiropractic treatments. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves the insertion of very thin needles into specific points on the body in order to balance the flow of energy, or chi. Acupuncturists use the hair-thin needles to stimulate different meridians, or acupoints, in order to help heal the body. Acupuncture has many benefits including reducing stress and bodily tension, strengthening the immune system, and enhancing mental clarity. Through certain techniques, acupuncturists can help their patients heal specific organs and organ systems, thus promoting improved mental and physical conditions. Some of these medical issues including arthritis, migraines, digestive complications, fatigue, and chronic ailments are treated through the release of tension. 

Acupuncture is widely used to help patients reduce their bodily pain and tension resulting from numerous chronic illnesses, and may even prolong survival. In a case study conducted on a 65-year-old male patient who was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2007, the patient was being treated with weekly acupuncture sessions which targeted “spleen dampness” and “lung qi weakness”, combined with lung monitoring and herbal medicine. He survived 10 years after his diagnosis, which was much higher than his expected life expectancy. This is just one example of the benefits of implementing acupuncture as a complementary therapy in order to treat chronic symptoms and potentially help extend patients’ life expectancy.

Acupressure

Acupressure, or modern reflexology, is a method of relieving pain by placing pressure on certain points on the body. Acupressure targets specific glands and organs to treat patients through the use of these pressure points. Some of these pressure points may be far from their organ origins. For example, the lungs are connected to the balls of your feet, between the big toes and little toes. The location of the sore points on your feet will correlate to the soreness in your chest. Acupressure also stimulates nerves in the body to encourage blood flow. Because of this, it is thought to prevent and stop pain. It also treats various painful and inflammatory ailments, helping with stress, muscle pain, and difficulty breathing. Overall, it has been found to promote a sense of good health and well-being in patients.

Target zones in acupressure are located in the feet, hands, teeth, ears, and tongue. Reflexology techniques can offer patients relaxation as well as additional health benefits. How can it help with the treatment of pulmonary fibrosis? First, acupressure helps encourage blood flow and reduces bodily tension, which helps reduce stress and inflammation. This can help patients feel better physically and may reduce the inflammation-mediated fibrosis. Second, acupressure helps patients get to a better mental state, which improves their quality of life. Overall, acupressure can be easily implemented into patients’ lifestyles because it can be used as self-treatment by patients. It’s easy, involves minimal pain, and is low to no cost with great benefits, making it a great option for patients with chronic pulmonary ailments.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy has a long history of use in cultures around the world. It involves manipulation of soft tissues of the body and is commonly applied with hands, fingers, elbows, knees, forearms, feet, or a device. Massage therapy can be used to manage a health condition and enhance wellness.

The goal of massage therapy in treating patients with a lung condition is to work the soft tissue in the chest area layer by layer and soothe the respiratory muscles. This may help to somewhat normalize respiratory function in patients. One technique called full-body therapeutic massage (TM) activates a part of the nervous system that supports opening up the airways. Another technique developed by German physicians called segment-reflex massage (SRM) helps stimulate lung function. Asymmetric segment-reflex massage (ASRM) is another massage technique developed by a Russian physician that helps patients with chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It works to restore balance to the respiratory muscles and improves the ability of the lungs to expand during inhalation. There are various other vibration and compression techniques which help clear the airways by removing mucous plugs. Research studies using massage therapy have shown improvements in shortness of breath, normalizing breathing rate, thinning mucous for easy drainage, and even improvements in lung capacity. 

Another significant benefit of massage therapy is its ability to provide patients with a deep state of relaxation and release mental stressors. Oftentimes, massage therapy can help alleviate pain and anxiety experienced by patients with pulmonary fibrosis, thus reducing the amount and/or frequency of pain medications that they are prescribed and/or regularly take. 

Meditation & Mindfulness

Meditation refers to the practice that focuses one’s thoughts in order to achieve mental clarity and emotional calmness. Meditation can help patients with pulmonary fibrosis reduce their stress levels, thus helping them feel less overwhelmed. Further, by participating in mindfulness breathing techniques and exercises that are specially developed for the benefit of pulmonary fibrosis patients, increased air flow and breathing capacity could result. The various benefits associated with meditation and mindfulness include progressive muscle relaxation, the promotion of mental clarity, and creating non-judgmental perceptions, all of which help promote healthier mental and physical habits.

Mindfulness meditation can be very helpful for those patients who have various concerns as a result of chronic illness as it  incorporates certain breathing techniques in order to achieve mental and emotional calmness. By focusing on one task at a time through meditation, patients can become much less overwhelmed. Living with pulmonary fibrosis can be mentally straining at times for both the patient and their caregiver, so creating a non-judgmental environment can help reduce some of the stress that they may be working through. Also, using techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, patients can release some of the tension in their muscles as a result of anxiety, which would relax their bodies and help them breathe better.

Chiropractic Treatment

The word “chiropractic” means “to be done by hand.” Chiropractors use various adjustment techniques in order to help patients restore and maintain joint function and movement, as well as to provide bodily support. Chiropractors focus on the nervous and musculoskeletal systems, working to improve general health through hands-on approaches. The philosophy of chiropractic medicine is based on the theory that compressed nerves affect areas of the body that they normally serve. Once the nerve compression is resolved, nerves can heal and do what they are supposed to do, no matter what part of the body the nerves are affecting. Chiropractors use relaxation techniques, rehabilitative exercises, dietary supplements, and heat and ice compressions. Chiropractic care can benefit those with a number of conditions, and help with bodily pains and headaches, leading to a better quality of life.

A 2015 systematic review on the effects of chiropractic care on COPD indicated that chiropractic adjustments may improve breathing by allowing for increased chest expansion and improved lung function. In a study conducted on fifteen patients who had moderate COPD,  the first five received soft tissue therapy, the second five received soft tissue therapy plus spinal manipulation, and the remaining five received soft tissue therapy, spinal manipulation and exercise. The groups who had received the spinal manipulations indicated less gasping for breath after four weeks of treatment. The group that received all three treatments could walk longer distances and had overall better lung capacity. By applying therapies including soft tissue therapy and spinal manipulation to the chest wall in patients with COPD or other respiratory conditions, the chest walls have tended to become less rigid, making it easier for patients to breathe.

Please consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatments. The incorporation of alternative and complementary therapies, along with the maintenance of healthy lifestyle habits, can provide significant benefits for pulmonary patients. If implemented and maintained correctly, complementary therapies can help pulmonary fibrosis patients better manage their symptoms, reduce stress, and improve overall quality of life.

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