Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a psychological disorder that affects many people. It can be extremely debilitating and affect a patient’s lifestyle, work, and relationships. Traditional medical treatments include pills and psychotherapy. This is a difficult disorder to treat; however, chiropractic care may provide adjunct or alternative therapy that can be free of the side-effects of medical options. In Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, patients have persistent thoughts that do not go away, and this leads them to perform certain actions or rituals to calm those thoughts. The actions only temporarily provide relief, and not performing them causes anxiety. 20% of people with OCD also have tics, which are related to Tourette Syndrome.1 Those suffering from the anxiety disorder of OCD can engage in behaviors such as excessive cleaning or hand washing, obsession with thoughts about sex, violence, or religion, and activities such as hoarding, checking, number aversion, or certain rituals that are time-consuming (and sometimes harmful to finances or relationships). Cleaning and washing are signs of fear of contamination while those who repeatedly check things, such as locked doors or that the stove is turned off, are imagining signs of danger that are not there. OCD is not always just extra attention to cleaning and organizing, as many people believe. Those with OCD do not experience relief until they have performed the action obsessively a certain number of times. Not all patients with OCD are obsessed with cleaning and organization, either.2 The causes are generally still unknown to the medical community, although there are biological factors that may be involved, such as low serotonin (a neurotransmitter in the brain). Some even say streptococcus bacteria can lead to this disorder in children. Environmental stressors are also suspected, such as abuse, illness, major life events, and relationship difficulties.3
Traditional Treatments for OCD
Typical medical treatments include psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive behaviors therapy “teaches a person different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting”. To reduce the compulsive behaviors, “exposure and response prevention” therapy can be helpful. In terms of medications, doctors usually prescribe anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs. Anti-anxiety medications should not be taken long-term. Antidepressants take longer to work (weeks to months), and they have side effects (such as nausea, headache, and sleep troubles), but they tend to be more effective than anti-anxiety medications.4
Chiropractic is involved in prevention of disease and the overall wellness of a patient’s health. It aims to holistically treat patients without the side effects of traditional medications. Some feel that abnormalities in the spine are related to the nervous system and the brain. Some researchers believe that these abnormalities can be related to Tourette’s and OCD.5 There are some who specialize in Chiropractic Neurology, and these chiropractors treat a variety of disorders, including OCD. These specialists feel that since the brain controls all body systems, and because the body is interconnected, problems in other parts of the body can affect the brain.6 Health systems of the body should not be treated as isolated. “The human nervous system is essentially the master system to all other human functions.”7 When the patient begins to feel an OCD attack coming on, they should refocus their attention. Exercise, performed properly and not obsessively, is a way for the patient to stay in shape and distract themselves from their compulsive disorder. Patients who consistently avoid performing their compulsive actions might find themselves not wanting to listen to their disorder as much. Exercise releases endorphins, a rewarding feeling that the patient will find to be a better alternative to the temporary relief from performing their compulsive actions. The exercise becomes a more productive form of stress relief, allowing the patient to join group workout activities that are much more social than their usual, compulsive actions.8 Friends and family of the patient may learn to see the triggers and the beginning of the patient’s obsessive nature. They will then be able to help prevent the obsessive actions or help the patient snap out of it.
Massage for OCD
Massage therapists often promote proper breathing. In the event of anxiety, breathing becomes small shallow gasps of air. Patients breathe more quickly to compensate for not filling their lungs, keeping them in a state of stress. Learning how to control breathing in a stressful situation, such as when the patient feels the need to perform an obsessive action, could help them calm down and not feel the need to follow their compulsion. Massage itself also creates a relaxing environment that the patient can use to take time to evaluate themselves and their disorder. This relaxation also shows patients that there are other ways to experience relief without negatively affecting their relationships and their own lives.9 Massage complements chiropractic care well. The patient should also be confident in themselves and their ability to maintain wellness with the help of professional care, friends, and family.