When pain refuses to go away… Why does this happen?
When no pathology can be found to explain my frequency, duration, or intensity of pain… Am I crazy?
Our body’s # 1 goal is to stay alive. That can mean sacrificing your joints, muscles, discs in order to protect vital tissues (especially blood vessels and organs). Sometimes the protective mechanisms stay in a hyper-alert mode long after the trauma is over. One such “protective” mechanism is found in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), the nerves that take care of body functions automatically. A couple parts of the ANS are the Sympathetic System (“fight or flight”) and the Parasympathetic System (“rest and digest”). These systems work together to balance us, to achieve homeostasis.
But sometimes the fight or flight is triggered and it becomes hyperactive (like a short circuit!). Triggers can be from trauma
(a fall, a car accident, etc.), from over challenge (lift too heavy or repetition beyond fatigue), and also from emotional trauma/stress. This internal guarded state can persist indefinitely.
And what do we do when the Sympathetic Nervous System is overly in charge? We hunch over… We go into a protective posture. Those nerves travel down the FRONT of our spine and if we slouch, they’re on slack and don’t yell at us so much (nerves hate to stretch, especially when they’re irritated).
But, when we slouch, the muscles in our backs, necks, shoulders, and legs are in a tug-of-war to hold us up. Rock and a hard place. What’s good for one is bad for the other. We try to maintain good posture and just get tired and sore battling the angry sympathetic nerves.
Your body is actually telling you what it needs. If you can’t stand up straight, do more of what you can do. The primary rule in this scenario is, “Does this feel good? Safe?”
So, if the fight or flight nerves running down the front of the spine are winning, calm them down by positioning into a “super hunch” (aka “the Hug”) for 2 or 3 minutes. It’s best performed on a couch with pillows to support this couch potato position. Be comfortable! Everywhere! While the chest is slouched, the neck may want to go forwards or backwards; experiment and fine tune. After 2 to 3 minutes of “the Hug”, return to your posture of choice SLOWLY, taking at least 5 seconds, and your chest should be the last to return to upright. Ideally, use fatigue as a warning sign that it’s time to re-hug.
Here’s a real life example. Within the first mile of a six mile walk with two of my sisters-in-law, one was rubbing her neck and the other was rubbing her hip. I made sure traffic was not an issue and then instructed all of us to continue the walk at the same pace, but we were all going to slouch our chests and “look for money” in front of our feet for the next 2 or 3 minutes. If this posture was uncomfortable anywhere, modify accordingly (more or less hunched). After a couple of minutes, we gently resumed our desired posture and…no more neck or hip rubbing!
We will always protect our vital tissues first. This can be at the expense of our musculoskeletal system (pain and subsequent degeneration). Of course, this self treatment is basic. Each individual vital tissue actually has its own unique positional release (hug) to defacilitate its sympathetic nerves.
These positional releases provide a MECHANICAL slack to angry nerves (like keeping a string on slack while untying a knot). But….. What if the nerves are angry because of stress CHEMICALS?
Stay tuned to a follow up blog on: How you might help yourself treat the chemical aspect of the fight or flight system.