Stress and the effect on the human body

A little stress is good for us. It can keep us alert and enable us to focus on the task at hand.
However too much stress can be detrimental to our health and affect us in many ways on an emotional and physical basis. This can range from tense muscles or headaches to diarrhoea or memory loss. The effects are vast and affect people differently. Most of us have experienced excessive stress levels at various times of our lives.
Christmas is fast approaching and for many this can be a very stressful and miserable time due to family pressures, financial hardship or loneliness. It is no wonder that this is recurrently one of the busiest times in my clinic. Thank fully Osteopathy can help to relieve some of the physical and even emotional stressors on the body.
The science of stress
The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary internal processes such as digestion and the regulation of blood flow as well as blood pressure, thermoregulation, gut function and urogenital function. There are three divisions of this system; sympathetic (SNS), parasympathetic (PSNS) and enteric.
I am going to discuss mainly the SNS as it is via this system, the body prepares itself to stressful situations, causing a ‘fight or flight’ response. Activation of the SNS causes the release or noradrenaline from the adrenal glands causing blood pressure and heart rate to increase and the smooth muscles of the blood vessels to dilate. This will allow blood to flow to the systems in the body that are required for this stress response. This is mainly the musculoskeletal system and brain.
In the wild mammals utilise this system well as humans would have done once upon a time. Current society has led to an elevated level of adaptation to the stress response. We live in a stressful society and have busy lives. For some of us we are in a constant state of ‘fight or ‘flight’ mode even if it is on a low grade level. This will lead to a reduced immune response so the stressors are dissipated in other ways. These may be your headaches, insomnia, back pain and stomach pain and so on.
Structurally, the SNS emerges from a column of cells which reside in the spinal cord and this is at levels T1-L2. The nerve cells are stimulated from emotional input and thus control the neurological output to the relevant tissues and organs for that level. For example the stomach to innervated at around T5 and the muscles of the head and neck T1-T4.
There is a link between touch, emotional memory and physiological processes within the body due to the inter-connectedness of neural activity between the brain and the muscular system. From an Osteopathic perspective, hands on treatment at those relevant segments can help to inhibit over stimulation of the SNS. For example, if someone was presenting with the symptoms of gastritis, treatment would entail working on the T5 segment as well as directly treating the stomach via abdominal techniques. There may be some tenderness at that particular segment of the spine as well as tissue texture changes, asymmetry and restricted range of movement. Inhibition techniques will provide symptomatic relief and also help activate the PSNS which is responsible for rest and digest. The PSNS is antagonistic to the SNS so harmonising the two systems will help to promote the body’s self-healing mechanisms. Also the release of muscular, fascial and connective tissue tension may assist patient’s to recognise the pattern of muscular tension within and so more empowered to address those emotionally maintaining factors. Dr Zeinah Keen.
Book in now for a pre-season de-stress Osteopathic session with Zeinah or Melissa on 9938 1090.

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