by Debbie Turczan
Lyme disease, and other tick-borne infections, are a growing health concern. The Center for Disease Control estimates that approximately 300,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed each year, though this number is likely not comprehensive, as
many cases go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Lyme disease can cause a broad spectrum of complaints, from joint and muscle aches to severe neurological problems. As someone with first-hand experience of this disease (I started a two year battle with it in 2009), I know very well the suffering it can cause. While undergoing months of intensive “western” and homeopathic medical treatments that would eventually cure the Lyme, I was flattened by the daily battle with headaches, joint and extremity pain, extreme fatigue, and severely limited mental focus. The addition of Craniosacral therapy to my treatment protocol, at the suggestion of a colleague, made an incredible difference for me. While it goes without saying that Craniosacral therapy is not a cure for Lyme disease, it can be very effective in managing some of the most common Lyme symptoms. Three of these common symptoms, and the related benefits of Craniosacral therapy, are discussed below.
Disturbances in sleep, including difficulty falling or staying asleep, and a lack of deep sleep, are common Lyme disease complaints. Problematic on their own, these complaints can be doubly frustrating for someone with Lyme, as many Lyme disease sufferers also experience persistent and profound fatigue, no matter how much sleep they get. One of the benefits of Craniosacral work is deep relaxation. As core tensions in the body are released, muscles soften, breathing slows, and the heart rate decreases, leading clients to easily fall asleep on the treatment table. While this brief period of rest is beneficial in itself, the greater benefit comes in the improved sleep the client may experience for several nights following the session. When I was fighting Lyme, the night of sleep I had after my first Craniosacral session was the best I’d had in months, and I woke feeling upticks in my energy level and mental clarity that improved my function throughout the day.
Another common symptom of Lyme disease is a persistent headache. One study showed that 53% of Lyme patients experienced headaches as part of their symptom profile. Often resembling either a migraine or tension-type headache, this can be challenging enough to endure in the absence of other problems. But when experienced in combination with other Lyme symptoms like joint pain and fatigue, the cumulative effect can be debilitating. Several Craniosacral techniques that are aimed at releasing the tension in the suboccipital area (immediately below the skull, where it joins the top of the spine) can be helpful. Muscle tension and other soft tissue restrictions in this area can contribute to headaches, both in the back of the head, and in the front (especially above and behind the eyes). The suboccipital area is a place where many of us carry tension, but this is especially true in those with Lyme, as the pain-spasm cycle and lack of rest further increase tension in this vulnerable area. During my Lyme battle, headaches were my most problematic and persistent complaint. I did not have high expectations for relief from this problem when I started Craniosacral therapy, however after only a couple of sessions the headaches began to lift, and I became aware of just how much tension I had been holding in my neck. Being able to let that go, and in turn experience a break from the headaches, was an important step in my recovery.
3. Neuro-cognitive problems
Commonly referred to as “brain fog,” many people with Lyme disease experience periods of confusion or decreased mental clarity. This occurs in more chronic cases of Lyme, when the disease has spread to the central nervous system. According to the Columbia University Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center’s website, cognitive deficits can include decreased short-term memory, impaired verbal fluency such as in name or word retrieval, and slower speed of thinking. These symptoms can be quite frightening to experience. During my battle with chronic Lyme, I once found myself lost in a subway station that I’d been using for most of my adult life. I suddenly was not able to find the right way out, and wandered back and fourth for a short time feeling lost and confused, until it seemed like my brain came back “on-line” and I was able to exit where I needed to. I’ve heard many Lyme patients say they feel like they are going crazy, a sentiment to which I can definitely relate.
One goal of Craniosacral therapy is to improve the movement of fluid that surrounds and supports the core components of the central nervous system, known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The CSF flows around the brain and spinal cord, as well as deep in the brain through the ventricular system. It allows the brain and spinal cord to “float” within the cranium and spine, providing support while it supplies nutrients and removes wastes from the neural tissues. In the presence of Lyme disease, the rhythm and rate at which the fluid moves becomes sluggish, which is one reason for the complaints of decreased vitality and mental clarity. During a Craniosacral session, the flow of CSF is enhanced and optimized, allowing for improved delivery of nutrients to brain tissue, and flushing away of waste products and toxins. In short, it can help clear the fog.
To reiterate, management of Lyme disease requires working with qualified medical professionals that are experienced in the nuanced behaviors of the infection, and understand the broad spectrum of signs and symptoms. Finding a qualified “Lyme-literate” doctor is an important step in the treatment journey, as is considering the addition of work with a naturopath. Once a medical plan is established, symptom management is the name of the game. Including Craniosacral therapy in the treatment plan will go a long way toward keeping symptoms under control and enhancing recovery.
Additional note: The best way to manage Lyme disease is to avoid it! As we head in to the summer season and look forward to spending more time outside, please take a moment to review this article from lymedisease.org about Lyme prevention.
Debbie Turczan is a Physical Therapist specializing in Craniosacral Therapy, with offices in New York City and Long Island.