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:
- Bending & Lifting
- Stacking While Walking
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.
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:
- If something is irritating, stop doing it.
- 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,