How osteopathy can help symptoms of stress

08th September 2014

The holiday for some of you may be over, however your efforts to relax we hope not. Now's the time to stop stress creeping back into your life and improve your overall health. Read our blog to find out how stress could be affecting you and how Osteopathy can help relieve its physical symptoms.

What stress is doing to our bodies

It’s well known that stress can be detrimental to health; most of us know that stress can raise blood pressure, weaken the immune system and give us nasty things like headaches and IBS, but what about the role of our musculoskeletal system (muscles and joints) in all of this?

Posture

Think of what happens to your posture when you’re stressed: your shoulders raise, perhaps you hunch forwards and your fists might clench up into tight balls. This requires prolonged muscular effort throughout the day which leads to your muscles fatiguing and aching.

Breathing

Now think of your breathing- is it calm long breaths or short shallow ones? If you take a deep breath in- does your chest or your tummy expand? (hint: it should be your tummy). If you’re breathing from higher up in your chest, then you're not using one of the most important muscles in the body: the diaphragm.When we breathe, the large dome shaped muscle called the diaphragm contracts and pushes downwards in our abdominal cavity, stretching the lungs and drawing air in as it does so. In addition, it helps to massage the small intestine and push food along the gut. The negative pressure produced in the thorax by the diaphragm descending helps with lymphatic drainage and circulation.

Digestion

Another set of muscles that tighten up in response to stress are the sphincter (circular) muscles along your gut. If these tighten whilst material is trying to pass along the gut, it will have the effect of squeezing a toothpaste tube - gas and matter will build up behind these restrictions leading to bloating and alternating constipation and diarrhoea. Reflux (heartburn) is also a consequence as the oesophagus (food pipe) entering the chest gets compressed.

Adrenal glands

Adrenaline is the hormone that gets released from your adrenal glands when you’re on a roller-coaster, or something equally scary or exhilarating. Known as the ‘fight or flight’ response hormone, it is very important in survival. When you’re stressed it’s released slowly by your body every day, and that 10pm energy peak is one big adrenaline release. Adrenaline suppresses the immune system and after a while, those small glands on top of the kidneys which release adrenaline get tired too which can lead to adrenal fatigue.This is not a sustainable environment, at some point you’re body is going to protest, if all those aches and pains aren’t protestation enough.

Ultimately, effective stress management via a multidisciplinary approach is the only way to deal with this situation long term, but those physical effects need to be addressed to allow for the lifestyle changes to really make a difference to your body. That means, working on the muscles, digestive system and getting that diaphragm to work as it should. A couple of sessions may be all that’s needed to help to ‘reset’ the body and provide a strong foundation for a healthier lifestyle.         

How osteopathy can help

Osteopathy helps the body to heal and regulate itself by removing any barriers to recovery and encouraging a rebalancing of the internal environment via external manipulation. By working on the areas of the spine where the autonomic nervous system emerges, we can encourage a rebalancing between the sympathetic and parasympathetic components. We can also work more directly on the symptomatic areas using a range of techniques to help reduce muscle tension and soreness, and restrictions within the digestive and respiratory systems. There are exercises that can be done at home to help maintain the body’s equilibrium and manage the physical effects of stress. To learn more about how your lifestyle may be affecting your health, inside and out, book a consultation with an Osteopath today. 

Francesca Yates 

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