Chiropractic care is best known for spinal adjustments, pain relief, and posture correction, so it often comes as a surprise when people discover that one of chiropractic care’s most significant functions is relieving chronic stress.
While chiropractic care doesn’t always relieve stress in a direct fashion—in other words, sometimes the indirect effects of chiropractic care are what function to reduce stress in the body and mind—most expert chiropractic interventions create a stress relieving effect as the byproduct of their application.
Where does stress occur?
Stress occurs in two areas, which many researchers would agree are inseparable from one another—the body and the mind.
While we it’s relatively straightforward to distinguish the differences between body and mind in conversation or on paper, when it comes to disease, stress, physical and psychological disorders, or body wear-and-tear, it can be difficult even for professionals to understand where one begins and the other ends in each different individual.
For most people, a symptom of a disease or an imbalance in the body doesn’t become worth addressing or treating until it begins to affect the mind.
Pain, strain, or discomfort may persist for extended durations of time without treatment until the mind begins to register that there is an imbalance and no longer tunes out the accompanying symptoms or discomfort.
For others, the mind may project an added intensity to relatively small symptoms of imbalance within the body.
Once awareness embeds itself in the mind, it can be difficult to shake the feeling that “something is wrong,” and every added awareness of the symptom can create additional discomfort, even if the discomfort is not physical pain.
Whether a symptom of discomfort like neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, arm pain, knee pain, or migraines and headaches has become mentally stressful or is purely physical, this still takes a toll on the body.
The stress of an injury or imbalance on the body—even if it never makes its way to becoming a mental stressor—can still contribute to further injury.
A symptom of imbalance, if left unattended or ignored, may silently worsen over time, requiring increasingly more serious intervention as it progresses.
In other instances, stress is exclusively mental—or at least, it begins that way.
A psychological stressor can become just as damaging and impactful to the body as a physical stressor over time, as stress hormones are released each time that the mental stressor is revisited.
Eventually, this can lead to weight gain, decreased quality of sleep, a weakened immune system, inflammation, digestive upset, high blood pressure, and even cognitive decline.
Needless to say, psychological stressors are also one of the leading causes of depression, anxiety, and headaches.
Although stress can occur in the body and the mind seemingly separately, they inevitably always overlap.
Because the mind is still a product of the body, mental stressors take a toll on the physical condition and overall wellness, just as physical stressors eventually make their way to the mind.
The bidirectional relationship between physical and mental stress makes chiropractic care a particularly powerful treatment for regulating and relieving stress, as it contributes to stress reduction in both areas.
Stress Relief in the Body
Chiropractic’s first and main application for stress relief is in the body.
Chiropractic care works on a number of body systems: the immune system, the nervous system, the skeletal system, and the digestive system, to name a few.
Because all body systems are interconnected and work harmoniously with one another, it’s also possible to say that chiropractic care works on all the systems of the body, but for the purposes of this explanation, the aforementioned systems will be the focus.
The Immune System
Comprised of the lymphatic system, which includes lymph nodes, tonsils, and other glands across the body, the immune system is directly affected by chiropractic care.
Adjustments in particular may work directly on the immune system by encouraging and enabling more lymphatic flow, encouraging white blood cells and lymphocytes to circulate freely in areas where they were previously congested and stagnant.
When under stress, the body almost always produces an immune response.
Prolonged immune responses caused by chronic stress can force the body into a state of inflammation, which can further exacerbate illness and infection.
When a chiropractor executes an adjustment on the body, a rush of blood flow, cerebrospinal fluid, and other new cells flush the glands of the body, allowing a purging of toxins and reinvigoration to the entire system.
This is one of the main reasons why it is so important to stay hydrated after chiropractic care as toxins are flooded from the body and the immune system rebalances itself.
The Nervous System
The nervous system is also directly affected by chiropractic interventions.
Whether it’s an adjustment or spinal traction (a branch of Chiropractic BioPhysics that moves bones and joints into new positions over longer periods of time), when joints and bones are returned to their optimal alignment, pressure is released from compressed nerves.
When pressure is released from compressed and constricted nerves, electrical energy is once again able to flow through the body at its optimal rate.
Where there may be loss of feeling to extremities, numbness, tingling, or pain (sciatic and related), chiropractic care decompresses and regulates the entire nervous system, bringing back lost sensations and reducing or eliminating nerve-related pain.
The nervous system is one of the main players in the stress response.
Both the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS) are implicated in the stress response.
The CNS is responsible for what is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response, and the SNS is responsible for the regulation of hormones.
It takes both systems to fully complete the stress response, from the initial signals indicating that something is amiss to the deployment of adrenaline and cortisol.
Because the CNS is mainly comprised of the brain and spinal cord, it is often considered to be most associated with chiropractic care.
The PNS, however, is comprised of the nerves that fill the entire body, and are equally affected by chiropractic treatment.
When the nervous system is relaxed and functioning optimally—a state that chiropractic care can encourage and support—then stress can be substantially reduced in the body, and the physical stress response can be mitigated or eliminated from chronic and unnecessary triggering.
The Skeletal System
The skeletal system is the most famously associated body system with chiropractic care.
When people think of a chiropractic treatment, they inevitably picture an adjustment or spinal traction, two of the main processes used to restore bones and joints to their optimal alignment.
While there are many other forms of chiropractic treatment including infrared and laser therapy, ultrasound therapy, soft-tissue therapy, trigger point therapy, etc, it’s true that manual manipulation of the bones and joints plays a large role in chiropractic care.
When bones and joints are misaligned, they create enormous amounts of stress in the body, and on virtually every system in the body.
Misalignment and subluxation can pinch nerves, compress organs, strain and pull muscles and ligaments, degenerate bones, and even severely impact breathing and digestion.
In addition to these effects on other body systems, misaligned bones and joints create their own set of problems and stress within the skeletal system.
They can contribute to poor posture, which decreases the efficacy of the spinal structure, and create pain in movement.
Misalignment and subluxation can increase the odds of developing arthritis, and can cause bones and joints to fuse in places they normally wouldn’t touch.
When posture is corrected and the spine and extremities are restored to proper balance and alignment, the entire body is benefitted and stress is reduced globally throughout all systems.
Organ function improves, muscles, ligaments, and tissues return to their ideal and optimal functions, and the body’s structure is able to best fulfill its purpose of keeping the body upright and mobile.
The Digestive System
The effect that chiropractic care has on the digestive system is often unexpected, as the skeletal system and digestive systems are not typically thought to be related.
As aforementioned, however, all body systems are interrelated, and the skeletal and digestive systems are no exception.
When the nerves of the body and organs are compressed by misaligned bones and joints, this severely reduces their function.
Nerves in particular often suffer reduced functionality as the result of misalignment, and nerves are primarily responsible for delivering messages to and from the digestive system to other systems.
When the body is stressed, it often delivers the message to stop digestion.
When stress occurs chronically, digestion is extremely haphazard and vacillates between hyper- and hypo- states of function. In other words, the effect of chronic stress on the nervous system can contribute to indigestion, irregular bowel movements, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.
Aside from affecting the nervous system, misaligned bones and joints also directly affect digestive organs.
When the spine is curved abnormally, for example as the result of scoliosis, undue pressure is placed on the abdominal area, including the stomach and intestines.
Those organs are then forced to compensate by shifting their position within the body, or simply continuing to function with reduced efficiency.
The cells of these organs can become weaker in certain areas due to the abnormal compression, thus decreasing functionality further.
When the body is optimally aligned, stress is reduced in both the nervous system and the digestive system, and no additional pressure is placed on the body where it wouldn’t naturally be.
Stress Relief in the Mind
The psychological benefits of chiropractic care are numerous. Chiropractic care has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, as well as increase the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
The role of CSF is to help detoxify and provide nutrients to the brain, as well as protect it against impact and damage.
The tension-relieving effects of chiropractic care on the body also translate to the mind, where reduced tension creates very palpable psychological relief.
As an act of mental self-care, chiropractic tops the list with regard to benefits that it produces both mentally and physically.
If you’re ready to begin relieving stress in your body and mind, give us a call and book your first appointment today!