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How does anxiety affect the body? Three ways Osteopathy can help

Written by Sian Smith   Posted in:Osteopathy   May 9, 2017

How does anxiety affect the body? Three ways Osteopathy can help
Are you a chronic worrier? Do you feel that everyday problems seem to bother you more than others? You’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are now a common diagnosis affecting slightly more women than men and some 3 million people in the UK alone.

Whilst we know a little bit of worry can be good for us - helping us to get out the door on time each morning and revise well for an upcoming exam – persistently high levels of worry can trigger a chronic stress response within the body, affecting us both mentally and physically. Prolonged episodes of worry can cause the sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for the fight or flight response) to become overactive and release the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream.It is these constant levels of stress hormones circulating within the body that cause us to respond with symptoms of the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Psychological effects of anxiety are relatively well-known, and it is particularly important to talk to a professional therapist who can help you address anxiety triggers and develop coping strategies to prevent long-term anxiety negatively affecting your health (there are studies linking anxiety disorders with increased heart disease and stroke).

However, anxiety can also manifest as physical symptoms within the body. Here we will touch on the 3 main physical symptoms of anxiety and the ways in which a visit to your osteopath can alleviate them. 

1)      Headaches

High levels of stress hormones cause the muscles to become overly tense – most commonly affected are the trapezius (upper shoulders), scalene and suboccipital (neck and back of skull) muscles. This increased tension limits blood flow to the muscles causing them to become fibrous and ‘knotted’, making you feel stiff and limiting mobility of the upper back and neck joints. Two types of headaches often result from this; tension headaches which cause pain at the back of the head and a tight ‘band-like’ feeling at the temples, and cervicogenic headaches which tend to travel from one side of the neck to the back of the eye of the same side. Osteopathy focuses on improving blood flow to the muscles using deep tissue techniques to reduce knots and manipulation to re-align the spine and improve mobility.

2)      Chest tightness

The stress response increases heart and breathing rates. In this state the body does less deep abdominal breathing and instead recruits the ‘accessory respiratory’ muscles, located at the neck, upper chest and back. This contributes to a panicky feeling of breathlessness and can cause chest pain and tightness. An osteopath can work through deep breathing exercises with the patient, encouraging use of the diaphragm, and help to stretch and relax the tense muscles around the neck and chest.


3)      Insomnia

Overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system can make it difficult to switch off, exacerbating any feelings of anxiety. The sympathetic nervous system is located either side of the thoracic spine (middle back), so an osteopath will look for any dysfunctional areas here, which may present as a block of restricted joints or an area of spasmed muscle, and will work to rebalance the problem. Additionally, techniques to encourage activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (located in the brain and lower back) are used to promote a slower heart and breathing rate, lowering blood pressure and encouraging feelings of relaxation.

So whilst anxiety is a common problem, it doesn’t have to be one you deal with long-term.

If you have any further questions regarding treatment for both the physical manifestations of anxiety, contact Sian Smith at sian@bridgetohealth.co.uk, or for help with the psychological symptoms then contact our councillors Juliusz Wodzianski (Uxbridge clinic) at juliusw@me.com or Deborah Kerr (Ealing clinic) at Deborah@bridgetohealth.co.uk.


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