I was supposed to meet up with a friend tomorrow, but sadly, this is not to be. Why? She sent me an apologetic email this morning to explain that her hay fever was bad and that during a sneezing fit, she had put her back out. In my work as a sports and remedial massage therapist, I hear all sorts of crazy stories about how people have hurt themselves. I’m no longer surprised, although often highly amused! This is not the first time I have encountered a sneezing related injury; a colleague of mine broke her rib sneezing and was in agony for weeks. The irony here is that such a normal physical response can cause so much harm. However, after I had finished laughing at my poor friend’s expense, I started to ponder on sneezing and realised that such injuries are not as surprising as they may first seem.
The body has many interesting and sometimes pretty forceful ways of expelling anything it no longer needs or positively rejects: we cough, sneeze, vomit, pass urine and faeces and of course, give birth. These activities involve an involuntary process where we close off our airway at the glottis (space between the vocal folds in the larynx) and then attempt to exhale against the closure (a modified Valsalva’s Manoeuvre). Our abdominal muscles contract, the pressure in our chest and abdomen increases and then the closure is released with the expulsion of unwanted substances from the body. It is easy to see how, if our abs aren’t engaged properly, or if the movement is simply too rapid and forceful, then the muscles around our ribs and back suddenly contract strongly and may get injured in the process. Internal organs may become displaced too, under the sudden, high pressure in the chest and abdomen. So I come to the same conclusion as I often do when considering bodily processes and responses: our bodies are basically great at what they do, although sometimes a little overenthusiastic!
If you’re suffering from hay fever right now:
- Ask an aromatherapist to blend you some anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic and decongestant essential oils. I’m using them for my relatively mild hay fever and they do make a huge difference. Fingers crossed, no broken ribs or pulled muscles yet!
- When you are about to sneeze (and if you have sufficient warning), engage your tummy muscles a little, to protect other muscles which are less prepared for the shock!
- If you are coughing or sneezing a lot, have a massage, to help relax and repair the muscles in your chest, back, neck and abdomen, which will have an increased workload.
To read more about Valsalva’s manoeuvre, check out this fairly comprehensive and comprehensible article