With chronic pain in the body the nervous system continually secretes adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are responsible for a fight or flight response. During this response, the brain sends signals to the musculoskeletal system to activate all the bigger muscles like hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes,etc in the body to either fight or run for survival. It may also activate upper body muscles like biceps and triceps to hit, punch or push to protect against the perceived threat. This reaction causes all the postural muscles to deactivate ( diaphragm, abdominals, longus colli and muscles of the vocal cords, etc) so all the stabilizing muscles and smaller muscles containing high amounts of proprioceptors ( nerves that send information about the position of the body and its parts in space at a particular moment in time) deactivate which eventually affects balance and proprioception.
If this stress response continues for over a few months into years the long term effects are adverse. The stress leads to muscle imbalances, fatigue, trigger points, balance and proprioception issues and loss of joint protection.
How to reverse this cycle?
The three ways you can start to rewire your brain and addressing this holistically are :
1. Mindfulness : To break this constant pain cycle, mindful breathing when the stress response occurs is a great way of calming the nervous system and relaxing the activation of bigger muscles in the body.
You can do inhalation - hold - exhalation cycle fully concentrating on the breath for a minute. It is ideal to start with inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 6 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds. As you get better at that cycle you can repeat the cycle with longer inhalation - hold - exhalation.
2. Movement : Movement is another way to break the chronic pain cycle. With movement your brain secretes endorphins and serotonin which helps elevate mood as well as improves your ability to function optimally with reduced symptoms. When the pain starts to get worse, movements like gentle stretching for 5-10 minutes or a walk for just 5 minutes can change that pain cycle.
3. Manual Therapy : With specific and focused hands-on manual therapy on the ribcage we can correct the spinal alignment and help facilitate the movement of the diaphragm. That in turn helps to improve breathing and posture. It also helps relax all the big muscle groups in the body and activate stabilizers which can help improve balance and proprioception.