Pleurisy and osteopathic treatment

Grad school, kids and life have been keeping me quite busy lately, but I finally have an update.

Last April, after experiencing really extreme pain in my back wrapping around to my chest, I was diagnosed with pleurisy (inflammation in the lining of my lung).  The pulmonary specialist I went to put me on a course of ibuprofen for 2 weeks.  I felt mostly better when I was done with the medication, but I still had some discomfort.  This was chalked up to just my body needing time to fully heal.  When it still wasn’t better by November, my doctor sent me for another CT scan.  The CT scan showed that the inflammation was gone…so why I am I still having the same discomfort on my right side? The next step was a course of steroids to clear up what may be remaining of the inflammation.  

I didn’t want to have to take steroids and according to conventional medicine, the CT scan says I’m fine.  BUT I’m not.  After some intense googling, I started to wonder if there could have been an issue with my ribs that caused the pleurisy.  When I was pregnant with Ezra, he spent a lot of time hanging out up in my ribcage on the right side.  After reading about someone’s experience where their pleurisy was caused by a rib being out of place, I started to wonder if that could have been the case for me.  I had never been sick before my pleurisy came on, but the doctors all said it was caused by a virus.  Something didn’t add up.  I’ve spent almost a year now not being able to take a deep breath because the air doesn’t flow into my lungs as it should.  I needed to get to the root of the problem.

I stumbled upon osteopathic treatment during my googling about pleurisy and ribs.  An osteopath is a physician who went to medical school and has also been trained in osteopathic medicine.  An osteopath uses manual techniques to diagnose and treat conditions to help the body heal itself.  Between the ER doctor, my first primary care doctor, the pulmonary specialist, and my second primary care doctor (I wasn’t happy with my treatment at the first so I switched), all anyone every did was look at my X-rays and CT scans and listen to my lungs.  The osteopath felt my ribs on my back and could immediately tell that the soft tissue wasn’t moving the way it is supposed to.  When I exhale while laying on my right side, I feel a slight pop which she determined to be that a rib probably was out of place and did not fully go back into correct alignment.  

The osteopath’s conclusion is that the right side of my body is structurally really off balance.  I was in a car accident in 2007 which left me with chronic neck and shoulder pain on my right side (I initially thought my pleurisy was just a flair up of this pain).  She thinks the accident really threw things off in that side of my body and it was probably worsened during my pregnancies.  The muscles in my shoulder were so tight, especially in my underarm, that she also mentioned that it could have effected the flow of lymphatic fluid possibly leading to the pleurisy.  I’ll probably never know exactly what caused the pleurisy, but putting these pieces of the puzzle together along the way tells me it definitely wasn’t a virus.  She also said that the muscle being so tight puts me at risk for tearing my rotator cuff.  Picking up and holding kids, plus the position I hold the baby to nurse, just exacerbates all these problems.  

At my first appointment with the osteopath, she instructed me to take a magnesium supplement (this one).  More than half of people tend to be magnesium deficient because magnesium used to be naturally occurring in our water supply.  Magnesium is an essential mineral that the body needs to keep bones strong, maintain normal blood flow, support a steady heart rhythm and a healthy immune system.  Magnesium also acts as a natural muscle relaxant.  Magnesium deficiency can lead to a host of health problems (read the short summary on Wikipedia).

I’ve had two treatments now by the osteopath and I can’t say I’m better yet, but I feel pretty confident that she can help me finally start to feel better by addressing the root cause of the problem.  I’m tired of spending my day constantly trying to take a deep breath.  It not only interferes with just feeling healthy and normal all day, but it has really impacted my running.  It’s hard to have an enjoyable run when I feel like I can’t fully catch my breath because the air isn’t flowing into my lungs.  I’ve also developed another frustrating problem which is that I have trouble yawning.  It’s like losing a sneeze – I need to yawn, I start to yawn, but then I can’t get the deep breath of air into my lungs.  This is because my body is starting to hyperventilate (not in the freaking out kind of way) – I’m taking in too much oxygen because I have to take a lot of shallow breaths so I can’t get a deep satisfying breath.  The osteopath said the fix is to hold my breath for a few seconds then I can sometimes get my deep breath or actually yawn.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it? I’m crossing my fingers and toes that I’m on the path to feeling better through osteopathic treatment.


  1. says

    I’m sorry you’re experiencing the long-lasting after-effects of pleurisy. I was diagnosed in the winter of 2012 and as a runner, my whole running life has had to change. The pain hasn’t gone anywhere.

    I’ve had to learn two things to help out: (1) keep a pace that doesn’t expand my lungs to the point where the knives start sticking them and (2) breathing a “new” way. Here’s more on that, and it’s the biggest help I’ve found.

    If your right lung hurts: inhale only as your left leg is lifted in stride. If your left lung hurts, inhale only as your right leg is lifted in stride. I read online (when I was diagnosed with pleurisy and needed to learn how to run with the pain) that this puts your diaphragm in a position to alleviate some pressure on your lungs or something like that — but it works!

    Both of my lungs were affected so I get to pick and choose which lung to “baby” at a time. Maybe for several minutes I baby the right before the left is taxed and I switch it up. Using this technique has helped me push 13.1 “trail” miles at a time without wanting to crumple in pain.

    I wanted to post this because I noticed you are still hurting a year later, and for me, it’s been 2 winters and my doctor said the pain is likely not going anywhere. I hope this helps anyone who is having the same issues! Run-on!

  2. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’ve been struggling with pain in my ribs for several weeks. I supposed it was a flair up of an old injury as well. However today I went in to my physician and am now being treated for pleurisy. I too feel like there are pieces to the puzzle. Pieces that I want to identify so that I might have better awareness and understanding of my body. I appreciate very much being able to come across your post in my initial research steps. Take care.
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