This is an important topic to talk about, as it is often overlooked. Too often medical solutions are focused on treating symptoms rather than looking for the root cause/s of the problem.
To deal with a person’s issue, whatever it is, we have to look at the entirety of the package to obtain long-lasting results.
Addressing chronic back or shoulder pain at the site of the issue, without taking into consideration how you are moving and what you are applying yourself to each day, as well as what maybe causing stress in your day to day, is like sticking a plaster on a ceiling that has a little hole and is leaking water and hoping it will go away!
Ultimately it is going to be better to find out what is causing the leak and resolve the issue that way, before it becomes a catastrophic problem.
Stress and anxiety cause certain physiological responses by releasing chemicals into the cells of the body that can lead to muscle tightening, shortening of breath, reduced digestion.
In this blog we are going to look at the ways in which environmental factors can create a physiological response and have an effect on your level of pain and length of recovery from injury.
We often think of stress just as the immediate conditions in our lives that impact us, without giving proper attention or credit to environmental stressors that can create low-grade, constant stress. Some common modern-day stressors are: –
- Working too many hours
- Fear of redundancy
- Being made redundant
- Looking for work
- Terrorism and it’s threat
- Social media
- Transition from high school to college
- Retirement planning
- Being around people who are different than you
- Arguments with family or friends
- A loved one who is extremely ill
- Uncertainty about the future
Some things within our environment we can control, but there maybe many things that are outside of our control, however, we can learn to control our reaction to them. Especially if we understand how our nervous system works in response to stress.
The Fight or Flight Response
The fight or flight response is a physiological response to stress that occurs in the presence of something that is frightening, either mentally or physically.
As well as having various body functions that we can command at will via the somatic nervous system, such as reaching for a glass of water, typing on a keyboard, stepping over a puddle, the body also has functions that are under automatic control, via the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system has two parts – the sympathetic nervous system SNS (fight or fright) and the parasympathetic nervous system PNS (rest and digest). Examples of body functions under automatic control are breathing, blood circulation and digestion.
Once your mind acknowledges danger, there is a release of certain hormones that activate the fight and flight response causing physical changes in your body that prepare you to either fight or flee.
Fight or flight and rest and digest are both systems that can occur at any given time within your body. In fact, they often take turns depending on your situation and state of mind.
If you are in stress and the SNS has been activated there will be signals to the muscles around your digestive organs to send blood away from the digestive system and direct it to other muscles that are more important in that moment to get you either to fight or flee from the danger. Digestion simply is not a priority in that moment.
At the same time, the SNS manipulates your cardiac muscles to boost your heart to beat harder and faster and circulate more blood.
Your SNS sends messages to your gland cells and manipulates the sweat glands to produce more sweat, which helps cool you down and keeps you moving.
The rest and digest response
When the PNS is active, you are resting and digesting, conserving and restoring energy. There are no threats, and your body is in a state of homeostasis.
More blood is sent to the digestive system, breathing slows down, the muscles in the heart calm down, so there is reduced heart rate, reduced blood pressure and the sweat glands do not overwork.
Chronic stress occurs when your stress system stays activated over an extended period . The constant stream of stress hormones can put a lot of wear and tear on your body, for example, through chronic increased heart rate and blood pressure, reduced nutrient intake due to a suppressed digestive system and this can cause the body to age more quickly and make it more prone to illness such as autoimmune diseases.
Higher than normal levels of circulating stress chemicals can over time increase our sensitivity to painful stimuli and sometimes be responsible in generating pain all on its own. In this ‘wound-up’ state painful sensations can become more painful and sensations that are not normally painful can become very sore.
Ways to handle chronic stress
As we have discussed above the nervous system response to stress is under automatic control, via the autonomic nervous system. However, if we can come to be more aware of when we are becoming stressed through the physical manifestations we feel and learn about our stress triggers, then we can choose our response to them better. We can either decide to remove environmental triggers or choose to employ some stress management practices that activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) consciously.
Some examples of stress management practices include: –
- Physical therapy
- Mindfulness practices
- Tai Chi
How Osteopathy can help
Osteopathy’s goal is to find the root cause of your pain or other health issues. The key principles are based on all parts of the body functioning together. If one part of the body is restricted the body compensates, which can eventually lead to inflammation, pain and various health conditions. Osteopathic treatment reduces these restrictions, reducing pain, stress and providing greater mobility so the body has the opportunity to heal itself.
As well as taking into account the physical biological issues, Osteopathy also takes into account psychology, consciousness, social and environmental situations in order to assess and develop a treatment protocol. For instance, if someone has to give an important presentation at work, or they are having problems in the relationship with their spouse, as well as stimulating the PNS through physical treatment, an Osteopath can also provide exercises and suggest activities that activate the PNS. Breathing exercises or dietary recommendations, advice on removal or changing environmental triggers can all be provided to help with the healing process.
Increasing awareness and connection of our mind to our body can speed up recovery from illness or injury.
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