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Posts for: May, 2019

The last several weeks, we have been exploring practical ways to activate your nervous system, both physically and mentally. This is part of a larger series we started on practical and reasonable ways to regain and retain overall health.

This week, we are going to conclude this section and the entire series by talking about how to reduce physical stress on the nerve system. Who couldn’t use a little less stress in their lives?

Step 1: Stop Doing That!

I have been a chiropractor for 30 years (wow!) and have seen a lot of concepts in healthcare and healing that come and go, but one concept especially in the field of pain management is:

“If it hurts, stop doing that!”

I know it’s common sense, but how many times do we continue to do the things that produce pain? Pain is your body’s (and really your nervous system’s) way of saying it is being damaged. Continuing to go down the path that produces pain almost always causes tissue damage and fibrosis (scar tissue). Neurological research has also brought out the concept of Central Sensitization.

Central Sensitization is where an insult to the body (and therefore peripheral nervous system) sometimes causes a change in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) that allows pain to remain, even after the initial injury has healed.

This can result in even mild stimulus (usually poor movement patterns, posture, or loading of the muscles and joints) producing a higher than expected pain response. Research is not clear on why this happens to some people but not others, however continuing to “poke the proverbial lion” usually results in a continuation of the problem. Experts differ on the best way to deal with Central Sensitization; however, most would agree that continuing to provoke stresses and strains across the nervous system is not a good idea. I would go one step further and ask, why would you want to place yourself in situations that might compromise your nervous system in the first place?

Unwinding Pain (and Reducing Physical Stress on the Nervous System)

One of my favorite authors on spinal mechanics and treating painful backs is Stuart McGill, Ph.D. McGill is a Canadian researcher who devoted the bulk of his career researching the science behind how to help people address their back pain through posture and exercise. One of the concepts he promotes is: Winding Down Pain.

Winding down pain has several components. The first is to avoid the “triggers” that aggravate you in the first place. This sounds pretty simple, but the truth is, there can be hidden triggers for pain and nervous system stress in daily life that don’t automatically give us a signal that they are doing harm. This can occur when our posture is less than ideal. McGill’s approach aims to prevent this by a method he calls “Stacking.” Stacking is when you line up the large centers of mass (head, rib-cage, pelvis) over each other in order to not stress the sensitive soft tissues (nerves, ligaments and discs, muscles). We are going to explore three of them in this post:

  1. Sitting
  2. Standing
  3. Bending & Lifting
  4. Stacking While Walking

 

Seated Stacking

Sit on a firm chair, feet on the ground, (if your feet don’t touch, get a block or box). Your lower back should reach the back of the chair and maintain a slight forward bend. If not, roll a small towel and slide it behind you. Your head should be over your shoulders and your eyes looking straight ahead. Anything you are watching or reading needs to accommodate this posture.

Standing Stacking

Knees should be unlocked. Maintain a slight, but not exaggerated lower back curve with your rib cage over your pelvis and your head over your rib cage. Don’t allow your rib cage and head to flex forward over your pelvis. Place your hands behind the small of your back.

Stacking While Bending and Lifting

Keep your head over your rib cage and your rib cage over your pelvis. Bend/pivot around your HIPS, not your lower back!

Stacking While Walking

Don’t let your chin poke out and lead you – look up and forward. Walk fast enough that your arms naturally start to swing.  This will engage your core muscles and keep you upright.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

Some of you may have gotten to this point in the post and thought: “Is that it?” Did you just boil down how to not irritate your nervous system by doing two things:

  1. If something is irritating, stop doing it.
  2. Maintain proper posture.

I know, it isn’t very sexy, is it? But I can tell you that if all of my patients over the last thirty years practiced these two simple principles, I would be doing about 90% wellness visits and 10% pain-based visits! Sometimes, it really is the simple things. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes you have to get to the point where you are able to do the simple things, but once your system is doing well, you can keep it that way by just not irritating it!

We are here for you if you are broken and need to get back to neutral, but if you are feeling pretty good, start practicing the things we have outlined in this series of articles on the nervous system and you will need us for pain a lot less!

Yours in Health,

Care Chiropractic
Lafayette, Indiana


Mentally Activating Your Nervous System

Welcome to this week’s blog. Recently, we have been going over ways to nourish the nervous system:

  1. Physical Activation
  2. Mental Activation
  3. Reducing Mechanical Distortion

Last week, we covered the first one: Physically activating/nourishing the nerve system.

This week, we are going to cover some ways to mentally nourish your nerve system, specifically:

  • The Autonomic 
  • The Frontal Lobes of the Brain

Why Deal With The Autonomic Nerve System?

If you recall, the autonomic portion of our nervous system is responsible for all of the “automatic” aspects of our body, things like breathing, heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, digestion, etc.

It is broken down into two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. You might recall learning about this in school as the fight or flight response. Essentially, the sympathetic portion is responsible for amping things up when we perceive or are exposed to danger, and the parasympathetic’s job is to calm things down once we are safe.

The problem is when the sympathetic system stays on all the time; this is called sympathetic dominance. If this is allowed to continue, a lot of things begin to breakdown. As a result, you are left vulnerable to everything from digestive issues to high blood pressure! The stresses and strains of today’s fast paced high drive society can invite this all too easily. Getting the autonomic nerve system back in sync can literally be life saving.

This One Is Easy!

Thankfully, activating your parasympathetic nervous system (and automatically deactivating your sympathetic system and thus reducing sympathetic dominance) is just a breath away!

Deep breathing practices have been around for a long time and most of us, at one point or another, have been on the receiving end of the phrase “just take a breath.” There is something intuitive, calming, and healthy about slowing down our breathing. Here is a great article on the topic from the University of Washington Medicine.

The bottom line from the author on how to start is this:

  • Breathe from your stomach, pushing your stomach out each time you inhale.
  • Take longer breaths, counting to at least three for each inhalation and exhalation.
  • Keep doing this, even though it may feel uncomfortable at first. After a while, you will start to notice your body feeling more relaxed.
  • Noticing the differences for yourself in how your body feels is more powerful than anyone describing it to you.

At a minimum, try this approach when you are feeling stressed. To really make it work for you, find a time or two daily to practice this, regardless of how you are feeling at the moment. Your heart and many other systems will thank you!

Why Deal With The Frontal Lobes?

The frontal lobes are the area in the front of your brain that are responsible for what is called “executive function.” Executive function, in a nutshell, allows you to “get things done.” According to Web MD, executive function lets you:

  • Manage time
  • Pay attention
  • Switch focus
  • Plan and organize
  • Remember details
  • Avoid saying or doing the wrong thing
  • Do things based on your experience
  • Multitask

When it goes wrong, it can impact your ability to:

  • Work or go to school
  • Do things independently
  • Maintain relationships

A breakdown of the frontal lobes, and therefore executive function, can be seen in disease states (post stroke, Alzheimer’s) and in some diagnosed conditions like ADD. I personally believe that it can be lost or diminished due to  the overwhelming pace of modern life (see the recent post on Margin), and the over-stimulation and reliance on electronic devices.

This One Takes A Little Work!

 The science and research on what it takes to keep the brain healthy and functioning is still young, and undoubtedly will change and grow as time goes on. However, like we discussed in earlier posts, the nervous system is a learning machine. It likes novelty and interaction, and, like the muscles, it can grow and strengthen with use or atrophy when ignored.

Here is a list of things to begin to incorporate into your life, in order to stimulate your frontal lobes and executive function:

  • Listen to music
  • Read a paper book (non-tablet)
  • Listen for double meanings, puns, and jokes
  • Summarize, or give the gist of, an article you read to someone else
  • Meet new people
  • Go to an art museum
  • Do mazes, word searches, cross-word puzzles, and Sudoku
  • Write (not type) a letter
  • Draw
  • Look for patterns in architecture, pictures, sentences
  • Spelling lists
  • Go through family photos and name people
  • Make up and tell stories
  • Memorize a poem, passage of scripture or funny story
  • Play board games (not computer) and card games
  • Take a class
  • Take a different route to work, the grocery store or church
  • Do math in your head
  • Learn a new language or instrument
  • Go someplace new, and when you get home draw a map of how you got there or the “layout” of the location

I hope you have been enjoying this series on getting back to basics on building a healthy lifestyle. Next time, we will conclude it with how to reduce mechanical stress on the nerve system.

Yours in Health,

Care Chiropractic
Lafayette, Indiana