Before we can understand what Sympathetic Distress is, we need to understand the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous System. Together they form your Autonomic Nervous System, the branch of your nervous system that is controlled subconsciously.
A healthy person can and should switch between both sides of their Autonomic Nervous System depending on the environment they are in. Your Sympathetic Nervous System, commonly referred to as your ‘Fight or Flight Response’ should take over when our lives are in danger, and we need to make a quick decision to save our lives. The Parasympathetic Nervous system should be active the rest of the time, when our Parasympathetic Nervous System is active our bodies are relaxed and can perform normal bodily functions such as digest our food, recover from physical and emotional stress and rest properly.
But what if we never could shut off our Sympathetic Nervous System?
You would end up with someone who is over stressed, doesn’t sleep well, has mood swings, very irritable, can’t recover from injury and suffers from chronic brain fog.... wait, does this sound like you?! This is Sympathetic Distress; it is the effects of someone who is unable to activate their Parasympathetic Nervous System and is stuck in their ‘Fight or Flight Response’ for long periods of time. What we see as therapists is a client who makes little to no progress with treatment, they always have a new injury, or they aggravate their current injury repeatedly.
There are many factors that can cause Sympathetic Distress, some of the major contributing factors are poor posture or misalignments in the body. Our body knows how we should stand and move and if we deviate from that, our body will be constantly using the proprioception portion of our nervous system to figure out where we are standing or how we are moving. That message doesn’t stop until we correct the misalignment or postural disfunctions, that constant message overloads our nervous system triggering a stress response and activation the Sympathetic Nervous System.
People in Sympathetic Distress also present with an under activating Vagus Nerve. The Vagus Nerve is the biggest nerve in our body, and one of its functions is activation the Parasympathetic Nervous System, so if it is under performing, we will struggle to mange the balance between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems.
There are some very easy treatments to help people who are in Sympathetic Distress, utilizing manual therapy to correct misalignments in the body, simple at home stretches to help stimulate the Vagus nerve as well as managing environmental factors such as stress.
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By regulating your Autonomic Nervous System to promote a healthier balance between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems we can help improve recovery from injury or identify the root of other symptoms which were a mystery before.
So if you have a lingering injury that doesnt seem to get better even after multiple rounds of treatment, or you are someone who is over stressed, doesn’t sleep well, has mood swings, very irritable and suffers from chronic brain fog... consider working with a therapist that is trained to identify and treat Sympathetic Distress! This could just be the game changer you are looking for!
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All Honsberger Physio+ therapists have the knowledge and capability to treat your vagus nerve! We are here to BUILD A BETTER YOU!
Written by: ADAM HONSBERGER, Registered Massage Therapist