Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) affects 32 million people around the world. In Canada, approximately 70,000 people live with HIV/ AIDS, and thousands more are infected every year.
This disease attacks the immune system and weakens it over time. When HIV has progressed to a point at which the patient’s immune system is severely disabled, the condition enters its final stage, known as Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Infections that are typically treatable, like tuberculosis and bacterial pneumonia can then take advantage of the body’s impaired defences and cause serious damage or even death.
Although we don’t yet have a cure for HIV/ AIDS, there are many medications such as Antiretroviral and Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy that slow the progress of the disease. Recent studies have also shown that massage therapy works effectively in conjunction with medications to help fortify the immune system, alleviate depression, and slow the progress of the disease.
“Opportunistic” infections are the biggest threat to a patient suffering from HIV/ AIDS. These are bacterial, fungal, viral and protozoan pathogens that take advantage of a host with a weakened immune system. Complementary treatments - such as Swedish massage therapy - that help boost the immune system are extremely valuable to patients combatting HIV/AIDS because they provide an extra line of defence against these potentially deadly invaders.
Massage therapy training provides students with instruction on the principles and administration of Swedish massage - known for its capacity to relieve tense muscles and help patients recover from the stress of daily life. However, for someone with HIV/AIDS, the benefits of Swedish massage go beyond relief from constricted tissues. This therapy helps to lower cortisol, the “stress” hormone that can interfere with our immune system’s capacity to repel invading pathogens.
Regular Swedish massage can work well as a complement to immune system-boosting medicines to help patients with HIV/AIDS maintain health and quality of life. Deep tissue and trigger point massage may also help support an impaired immune system by boosting the production of lymphocyte, white blood cells that play an important role in fending off disease.
Many people who suffer from HIV/ AIDS also battle depression. They may feel isolated because of the stigma associated with the disease, or because family and friends who don’t fully understand how HIV is spread might avoid physical contact - which results in marginalization and loneliness.
Because a depressed patient may be more likely to interrupt or give up on medicinal treatment, therapeutic approaches that address depression are an important element of a comprehensive healthcare plan. Massage college graduates know that regular massage therapy can help reduce the anxiety of coping with a chronic disease by boosting levels of oxytocin - a powerful hormone that can trigger feelings of comfort and connection, and is typically associated with an overall sensation of wellbeing. Regularly stimulating oxytocin production with massage therapy can help depressed patients feel better equipped to cope with the challenges of living with a serious health condition.
While there is typically very little risk associated with performing massage therapy on patients with HIV/AIDS, there are some best practices the registered massage therapist should adhere to in order to protect their health - and the health of their patients - during treatment:
• Make sure neither you nor the patient has open cuts or sores, because HIV is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood
• Because HIV/AIDS patients have compromised immune systems, reschedule appointments if you are feeling at all under the weather, to avoid making them sick
Interested in learning more about training to become a registered massage therapist? Visit OVCMT for information about our program and to discover how you can help improve patients’ lives as an RMT.