Massage & Bodywork

MAY | JUNE 2015

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education When Food Hurts Can Massage Help Crohn's Disease? By Ruth Werner Food is one of life's great pleasures. Complex or simple, it can be used as a source of entertainment, an expression of emotion, or strictly for sustenance. Disorders that involve the digestive tract can be especially challenging because, unlike some pathology-inducing behaviors like smoking or alcohol use, eating is not optional. One way or another, nutrition must have access. And if the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is swollen or clogged with scar tissue, that spells trouble. What happens then, when the act of eating has the capacity to trigger breathtaking pain? How can you function if your intestines are impacted by random attacks creating inflammation and spasm? And—more importantly for our purposes—can massage therapy make a difference? WHAT IS CROHN'S DISEASE? Crohn's disease, named in 1932 for Burrell B. Crohn, is an autoimmune disorder that affects the lining of the digestive tract. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are collectively referred to as inflammatory bowel disease, but they are etiologically distinct conditions. Where ulcerative colitis is limited to the superficial layer of the colon lining, Crohn's disease can affect the entire GI tract from mouth to anus, and the associated ulcers and other lesions can penetrate through the mucosal lining, muscularis, and peritoneum. Crohn's disease affects somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million people in the United States. Most patients are diagnosed between ages 15 and 35. Unlike many autoimmune diseases, Crohn's disease affects roughly the same number of men as women. PATHOLOGY PERSPECTIVES This condition can involve one episode or many. It can be a minor irritation or excruciatingly painful. No single treatment is universally curative, and while some patients find long- term relief, others face a lifetime of progressive loss of intestinal function along with complications that range from joint pain to kidney stones to an increased risk for colorectal cancer. ETIOLOGY At this point, most experts agree that Crohn's disease is a multifactorial condition, involving a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental exposures, and sometimes a triggering event that sets off an autoimmune attack in the digestive tract. Our Microbiome One of the most exciting fields of research in human health today focuses on the microbiome of the digestive tract. Each of us has a unique internal environment that is influenced by what we eat, where we live, who we live with, and—amazingly—our parentage. It seems that some of the bacterial strains that serve us in the process of digestion are inherited from our parents. When that internal environment is consistently disrupted (this is called dysbiosis), it appears to pave the way for several disorders, including obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's disease. The precise sequela from unbalanced gut flora and fauna to Crohn's disease is not completely "Since I was little, I was known as the 'sick girl' and the 'Stomachache Queen.' By the time I was ready to go to college, I had shrunk to 95 pounds. I went to the doctor for a checkup, and he insisted that I see a gastroenterologist; it was then that I was first diagnosed with Crohn's disease at age 17. It was awful. The testing, the stress, the testing, the stress. In the middle of all this my mom said, 'I'm taking you for a massage.'" Meredith Kusmer Jerome Crohn's patient and massage therapist 36 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k m a y / j u n e 2 0 1 5

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