top of page

Chronic Pain and Respiratory System Response.

Chronic pain and Introduction to types of Central Nervous System

There are three parts of the Central nervous system. 1. Sympathetic 2. Parasympathetic 3. Enteric. With initial injury or stress in the body, your sympathetic nervous system activates. This in turn secretes stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Due to the secretion of these hormones, the body goes into either a fight, flight, or freeze response. The impact of that response on your respiratory system is that your respiratory rate increases and you start to use all the accessory muscles ( neck muscles, intercostal muscles, upper trapezius) of the body to breathe instead of the diaphragm which is the primary muscle of breathing in an efficient state.

In an optimal state, after the initial injury or perceived threat is gone your body goes back into homeostasis (rest, digest, recover) which is called the parasympathetic state. When the sympathetic response continues for over 6 months, your body is conditioned not to use the diaphragm but only use the accessory muscles. That in turn leads to postural changes, difficulty in inhaling and exhaling optimally, neck, thoracic, or lower back pain, etc. The trick is to be able to flip the switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic as soon as possible so that the body can be back to homeostasis and can rest, digest and recover. The third type is The enteric nervous system or intrinsic nervous system is one of the main divisions of the autonomic nervous system and consists of a mesh-like system of neurons that governs the function of the gastrointestinal tract.

The three ways you can work to bring the body back into homeostasis are:

1. Mindfulness: The first step to help your sympathetic nervous system calm down is to be conscious about when that threat response occurs in day-to-day life.

Visualization: Once you are aware(mindful) you can imagine a loud alarm going off and literally visualize turning the volume of that alarm down in your head. Repeat that as many times as you need to that way you can start rewiring that threat response in the brain and gradually calm your nervous system.

2. Movement : A movement like stretching the neck and chest muscles will help relieve the stress from all the accessory muscles of breathing. It will also reverse shallow breaths as you would be able to access the diaphragm better once all the other muscles that are overworking get a chance to relax.

3. Manual Therapy : Skilled manual techniques will address deactivating the accessory muscles by focusing on the activation of the diaphragm through working on the thoracic spine, sternum, and even neck. The phrenic nerve which primarily activates the diaphragm is one of the important structures that is addressed with manual therapy to help restore efficient breathing. As the ribcage has an opportunity to expand better, the posture improves which automatically helps activate the diaphragm to its full potential.

12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page