How Chiropractic Care Reduces Stress

In conjunction with healthy lifestyle changes, chiropractors can help reduce stress on our bodies by performing chiropractic adjustments and soft tissue therapy to take tension off joint tissue and nerves.

Why and how does stress result in physical tension that is felt in the body?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Great question, Liz. And I think before we discuss exactly that, we need to discuss what is stress. So, for us as chiropractors, we call stress the three Ts.

We have trauma. Traumas can obviously be being involved in a car accident for example, but also you can have micro traumas. Sitting at your desk for eight to 10 hours a day, five days a week for the last 10 years, with average to poor ergonomics; that’s a form of stress.

Another form of stress is what goes into the body. So, your diet, is it high in inflammatory foods, processed foods, poor fat? Because if it is, that’s obviously going to create stress on the physiological system, your GI system, et cetera, your renal system.

The last type of stress is emotional stress. So, are you planning a wedding? Do you have a coworker you don’t particularly get along with? Are you in a high stress environment and you’re working with deadlines?

Those three to four things essentially form stress. And when the stress is in the environment, then obviously it can manifest and take many different forms of signs or symptoms within the human body. Physical tension within the tissues could easily be coming from postural changes that have occurred from micro stresses, that have occurred from your corporate lifestyle, i.e. being in average to poor ergonomics over time. We discussed on our last podcast, for example, when you evaluate good posture in the neck, the ear should be sitting on top of the shoulder. But as we start to shift forward in that anterior head carriage, that means your head just starts to shift in that forward plane that’s obviously going to create stress and tension in the muscles in your neck and your upper your back. That’s obviously going to create pain and dysfunction.

Let’s say we have a diet that’s really high in caffeine intake, which is diuretic. That means that we’re really dehydrated. Dehydrated tissue is going to get really kind of tight and stiff and sore and it’s going to be unhealthy. That manifests into tension. And then obviously you’ve got emotional stress.

We discussed this on previous podcasts where you have two types of a nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic. Sympathetic nervous system is our stress response. You just got rear-ended, hairs on the back of your neck stand up, eyes are wide open. If you’re chronically stressed from poor diet, poor posture or a high stress work environment, then obviously that’s going to create our sympathetic nervous system, and that’s going to increase tissue tug. So, there’s different types of stress that can create different types of tension in the body, and it all depends on which type of stress is creating the tension in your body. And obviously, that takes a professional to figure out.

What areas of the body are most commonly affected by stress?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Great question. And I think this is a case-by-case basis. We just spent 20 minutes together on our last podcast last month discussing neuromuscular skeletal pain. So how poor posture creates stress in the body, it can create stress in the spine, so it can create low back pain, neck pain, et cetera. But what people don’t necessarily realize is the physiological effects stress can have in our bodies.

We practice downtown in Chicago, and 95% of our patients are corporate athletes. They are all professionals who work extremely hard. Their life is full of stress, postural stress, obviously work environment stress. And then a lot of patients’ hydration and diet are probably not where it needs to be due to that stress. So, we tend to see that manifest in what we call those lifestyle diseases. People, when chronically stressed, have the inability to sleep well, insomnia, inability to digest food well, they have GI issues. They’ve got issues within the thyroid, sleep, mood, energy levels, metabolism, inability to lose weight or gain weight.

I think chronic stress is going to play a huge role in the physiological system of our body. It could be the GI or the renal, and that seems to manifest into those classic symptoms we see in the office of GI or thyroid issues. We treat a lot of people with those lifestyle conditions in the office. And they don’t necessarily come in for that, more for the pain. But once we do the detailed histories and x-rays, we’ve realized that they’ve got secondary, tertiary symptoms along with pain, which manifests into dysfunction in the organ system, for example.

What are some of the side effects of a body constantly being in a state of stress?

Dr. Luke Stringer: I think we just touched on it, right, Liz? So essentially, let’s use posture, because that’s what our office’s M.O. is. Posture’s a window to your health. So, let’s just imagine we’re in poor posture, and we’ve been in poor posture for 5- 10 years. Our spines are out of alignment, we’ve got a lot of micro stress from our working day, sitting, standing in one place, our diet’s not great, we’re not moving as much as we should, there’s a high stress work environment. Typically, what we see is yes, you’re going to come in with pain, but it’s also going to be, again, those lifestyle diseases.

Patients that come see us by themselves, again, typically come through the door due to pain. But poor posture will create stress and tension on the nerves in the upper part of your low back, lower part of the mid back that creates stress on the nerves that innervate the GI systems. So typically, we have a lot of patients that come in with GI issues, irregular gassy bowel movements.

Or when you have a poor neck curve, like we discussed in our previous podcast, i.e, that head starts to shift forwards. It creates a lot of tension in the upper back. Those nerves in your upper back innervate the esophagus.

So, we have a lot of patients coming in with reflux, indigestion, heartburn, things of that nature. Stress can manifest into other conditions. And those lifestyle conditions typically are GI, reflux, indigestion, poor sleep patterns, inability to lose weight, thyroid issues, lifestyle diseases that we see and treat a lot of in the office.

How does a spinal adjustment work to reduce stress in the body?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Great question. A spinal adjustment, what is it? Essentially, before you get adjusted, you go through that detailed history, exam, x-rays to figure out exactly what you are adjusting. But if your spine is out of alignment, it’s going to increase the stress and tension on the joint, the tissue and the nerve. So, if we talk about the joints and the tissue, by adjusting the joint, I am putting force through the joint line and getting that joint to move, that’s going to release stress and tension off of the joint and the tissue. So, we’re going to feel better. We’re going to start to move better.

But imagine the nerve in your upper part of your lower back that innervates that small intestine, that’s asensory, right? 85% of your nerves are asensory, not sensory. 15% of your nerves are sensory. So pinch the efferent nerve of that sensory nerve, then you’re going to get pain signals. But only 15% of those nerves actually have those efferent pain or efferent nerve fibers that emit pain signals. The 85% of your nervous system don’t necessarily have or don’t have those sensory fibers. So, if your nerve is compressed and it’s not a sensory nerve, then you’re not going to get pain, you’re going to get dysfunction. So, if you can remove the stress and tension that’s on a nerve and it allows that nerve to function optimally, i.e. stress free, then the organ that nerve is innervating, or the bodily system that nerve innervates is also going to function better.

By repetitively getting the spine adjusted and in alignment, you’re going to take stress and tension off the joint tissue, the nerve. And by doing that, repetitively supplemented with what we discussed on our previous podcast, traction if we need it, soft tissue therapy to address the muscle imbalances. We have to address the muscle imbalances. And when you do that in rhythm over time, that’s how you can make huge change in people’s lives. Not just the pain, but also in how they feel, how they function across the board.

Now, remember adjustments aren’t a home run, right? If you come into the office and you’ve had pain every day for five years, don’t expect to be out the office in five days. It’s going to take some time, energy, and effort to fix things. And unfortunately, with chiropractic care, people expect a home run a lot of time. So, if you’re going in just for an adjustment, you’re going to get some relief but that adjustment isn’t going to hold. So, adjustments in rhythm, i.e. repetitively over weeks, months if needed, in time that’s how you get objective change. And you can reduce the stress the body is placing on that joint, the tissue or the nerve. And when you do that, you’re going to feel and function far better.

Can regular chiropractic care help the body fight off the negative effects of stress long term?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yes, absolutely. And again, there’s different types of stress, right? So, if you have poor posture and that’s putting stress in the nerves in your neck, you’re going to get neck pain. Then obviously you go through what we call the corrective care, where you’re working on improving the neck curve, the joint mobility, the tissue tone, stabilizing those muscles.

Once you are in alignment and you’re functioning well and you’re feeling good, the one constant that doesn’t change is the stress that brought you into the office. So, for example, you’re a corporate athlete, you’re sitting 60, 70 hours a week. You need to manage that stress. So how do you manage it? Good ergonomics, sit-stand desk, postural breaks, rehab done outside the office. But there’s things that you physically can’t do, and you can’t adjust your own spine. Adjustments relieve the stress and tension on joint tissue, but specifically the nervous system. No system is nerve pressure free, you’re just going to function at an optimal rate.

Chiropractic care can absolutely, in conjunction with what we just discussed, good ergonomics, postural breaks, good rehab, good lifestyle choices, can absolutely address negative effects of stress long term and keep us feeling and functioning as we should pain free without restriction.

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