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Trauma-Informed Physical Therapy: Fostering Healing and Empowerment

Trauma-Informed Physical Therapy: Fostering Healing and Empowerment 1920 1080 ResilientRx

Physical therapy is often viewed as a means to recover from injuries, manage chronic conditions, and regain physical function. However, for individuals who have experienced trauma, the journey to physical well-being can be more complex than the physical ailments that they may be facing. Trauma can have far-reaching effects on a person’s physical, emotional, and psychological state, making traditional physical therapy approaches potentially challenging or even re-traumatizing. This is where trauma-informed physical therapy comes into play, offering a compassionate and sensitive approach to healing.

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed healthcare recognizes the prevalence of trauma and its potential impact on a patient’s ability to engage in therapy. Nearly 90% of individuals seeking healthcare services have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, with 20-30% going on to develop PTSD (Al Jowf GI, et al, 2022). These experiences can range from physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, combat exposure, or natural disasters, which can leave lasting imprints on the mind and body.

The core principles of trauma-informed care focus on creating a safe environment, emphasizing choice and collaboration, adapting treatment approaches, and promoting self-care and coping strategies. By understanding the signs and symptoms of trauma, such as hypervigilance, avoidance behaviors, or emotional dysregulation, physical therapists and other providers, can tailor their interactions and treatment plans to meet the unique needs of each patient. This is no easy task and takes time to develop individually as the provider and the relationship with the patient.

What Does Trauma-Informed Physical Therapy Look Like?

A positive example of trauma-informed physical therapy in action might look like this:

Sarah, a survivor of domestic violence, arrives for her first physical therapy session after sustaining a shoulder injury. The physical therapist greets her warmly and takes the time to explain the treatment process, emphasizing that Sarah has the choice to pause or stop at any time. The PT creates a comfortable space by allowing Sarah to choose where she would like to sit and provides a private treatment room as opposed to out in an open gym in front of other patients and staff.

Throughout the session, the physical therapist maintains open communication, frequently checking in with Sarah and allowing her to guide the pace and intensity of the exercises. If Sarah exhibits signs of distress or discomfort, the PT promptly adjusts the treatment approach or suggests a break. Fostering a sense of control and empowerment helps Sarah build trust and confidence in the therapeutic process.

In contrast, a less-than-ideal interaction might unfold like this:

John, a combat veteran struggling with PTSD, attends a physical therapy session for a back injury. The therapist, unaware of John’s trauma history, proceeds with a rigid treatment plan without considering potential triggers or emotional responses. The PT’s commanding tone and forceful adjustment of John’s body position could inadvertently trigger flashbacks or a heightened stress response, leaving John feeling overwhelmed and unsafe.

Without a trauma-informed approach, the physical therapist may miss critical cues or fail to create an environment that promotes trust and empowerment, potentially hindering John’s progress or even causing further distress.

Why Provide Trauma-Informed care?

Imagine 3 patients, each with a limp. One has a splinter in their foot, the second has sciatica, and the third had a knee replacement 4 weeks ago. They all may appear to have a similar gait, but treatment for each is wildly different because of their underlying root causes. The same is true for patients with trauma. We know that no two individuals are the same, so we must take the time to view them through a holistic lens, every single time.

Research has shown that trauma-informed care can significantly improve patient outcomes and engagement. A study by Reeves in 2015 found that individuals who received trauma-informed care reported a greater sense of safety, trust, and overall satisfaction with their treatment. Although trauma-informed care (specific to physical therapy) has been studied very little, a growing body of research supports the positive impact of trauma-informed approaches on reducing dropout rates and improving treatment adherence among trauma survivors.

Most physical therapists you’ll find are “people persons” and are empaths, so a good PT should naturally incorporate principles of trauma-informed care (Heywood, et al, 2024). However, integrating trauma-informed principles into physical therapy requires ongoing education and training for healthcare professionals. It involves developing a deep understanding of trauma’s impacts, recognizing potential triggers, and implementing strategies to create a safe and empowering environment for patients. 

It Takes A Village

Collaboration with mental health professionals and other members of the interdisciplinary team is essential, and can further enhance the effectiveness of trauma-informed physical therapy, while addressing the physical and psychological aspects of healing. As healthcare providers, it is our responsibility to recognize the profound impact of trauma on an individual’s well-being and tailor our approaches accordingly. By embracing trauma-informed physical therapy, we can foster an environment of compassion, trust, and empowerment, enabling individuals to embark on their healing journey with dignity and resilience.

If you are in need of physical therapy, but need more focused care in a safe and welcoming environment, contact us today, or book an initial evaluation.


  1. Al Jowf GI, Ahmed ZT, An N, Reijnders RA, Ambrosino E, Rutten BPF, de Nijs L, Eijssen LMT. A Public Health Perspective of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 May 26;19(11):6474. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19116474. PMID: 35682057; PMCID: PMC9180718.
  2. Reeves, E. (2015). A synthesis of the literature on trauma-informed care. Issues in mental health nursing, 36(9), 698-709.
  3. Heywood, S., Bunzli, S., Dillon, M., Bicchi, N., Black, S., Hemus, P., … & Setchell, J. (2024). Trauma-informed physiotherapy and the principles of safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment: a qualitative study. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 1-16.

Empowerment in Recovery: Self-Efficacy Can Make A World of Difference

Empowerment in Recovery: Self-Efficacy Can Make A World of Difference 1920 1080 ResilientRx

Embarking on a journey of physical rehabilitation to overcome pain or injury is not just a matter of mending the body; it also involves cultivating a mindset that fosters resilience and belief in one’s abilities. In this blog, we delve into the realms of self-efficacy in rehabilitation, explore helpful strategies and the powerful connection between the mind – all of which could be a game changer!

What is Self-Efficacy?

Self-efficacy is one’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a particular task [1]. It is having confidence in yourself and your skills. Imagine you’re attempting to learn a new sport, such as rock climbing. If you believe in your ability to master the techniques (by practicing and getting coached) despite initial struggles, that reflects higher self-efficacy. However, if you doubt your capability to improve and feel overwhelmed by the challenge, harboring thoughts like “I’ll never be able to do this,” that indicates lower self-efficacy. This belief in your potential directly impacts how you approach the goals of scaling tougher routes, navigating roadblocks  like fear or fatigue, and persevering when plateaus arise in your skill development. Persistent pain or an injury is very similar. They require nurturing self-efficacy – having courage to try, make mistakes, learn and grow despite uncertainties.

Mindset & Its Role in Healing

A positive mindset and fostering self-efficacy can play a pivotal role in the healing process. Numerous research studies have demonstrated the powerful influence our mental state and beliefs can have on physical outcomes. In a study published in The Journal of Pain, researchers found that patients with higher levels of self-efficacy experienced less pain and disability after undergoing surgery compared to those with lower self-efficacy [2]. This suggests that believing in one’s abilities to manage pain and recovery can positively impact healing trajectories.

Another study in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain examined the effect of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aimed at boosting self-efficacy beliefs in individuals with persistent (aka chronic) pain [3]. The results showed patients who received CBT reported significantly less pain, disability and depression compared to control groups. Cultivating a mindset focused on coping capabilities rather than perceived limitations facilitated better quality of life.

The mind-body connection is strong. Mental practices like positive self-talk, imagery, and relaxation techniques can modulate pain pathways in the brain and reduce physical tension [4,5]. By learning to reframe negative thought patterns through mindset work, patients become better equipped to manage pain sensations during rehabilitation.

Ultimately, patients who adopt an optimistic, determined outlook and maintain beliefs in their potential for recovery tend to adhere better to treatment regimens, persist through challenges, and experience better long-term outcomes [6]. One important point is that this does not replace or deemphasize hard work and consistency on the physical level, but rather serves as an enhancement to the entire process.

Set Realistic Goals With SMART Criteria

Goal-setting is crucial for rehabilitation. Physical therapy is a very goal-oriented process. One strategy to enhance self-efficacy and stay motivated is to establish realistic, achievable goals using SMART goals:

  • Specific: Define the goal clearly, e.g. “Run an 8 minute mile pace around Lady Bird Lake without knee pain.”
  • Measurable: Establish tracking criteria to measure progress e.g. “distance, pace, and pain levels are all objective, measurable and easily tracked.”   
  • Achievable: Ensure goals are realistic based on your capabilities, e.g. “you’ve done this before and have a passion & experience with running.”
  • Relevant: Align goals with overall priorities and well-being, e.g. “running is your outlet and you understand all the positive physical & mental health benefits of it.” 
  • Time-bound: Set a timeframe for added focus and accountability, e.g. “by the end of this year.”

Celebrate Small Wins To Build Big Confidence

Achieving incremental success cultivates a sense of accomplishment, reinforcing the process [7]. Celebrating the mini victories boosts confidence and self-efficacy and each small step forward provides evidence that improvement is possible. Acknowledging this is a highly motivating tool [8]. When we acknowledge even the small milestones along the way, it triggers feelings of pride and intrinsic motivation, which helps sustain effort. Savoring the small wins also helps combat unhelpful thought patterns that can hinder self-efficacy. Simply noticing or internalizing successes, no matter how small, makes it harder for self-doubt to take root [9]. Positive reinforcement deepens the belief of “I can do this,” and even takes it further to “I will do this.”

Overcome Challenges With Support

Healing and recovery are unfortunately rarely linear. Ups & downs and even setbacks are very common, but they don’t have to define your journey. Building resilience and maintaining perspective allows overcoming challenges without losing sight of goals. In addition to the strategies listed above, having a supportive network through friends, family, and your physical therapist (or other healthcare provider) is immensely powerful. The therapeutic alliance forged between patient & therapist significantly impacts treatment outcomes [10]. And no matter what your circumstances are, chances are you are not alone. There are people out there dealing with very similar issues that may be worth connecting with through avenues like the internet, social media, or local support groups.

The Big Picture

Cultivating self-efficacy acts as an empowering force throughout the rehab process. By setting realistic goals, celebrating small wins, maintaining a positive mindset, and leaning on a supportive network, individuals can nurture an unwavering belief in their ability to heal and overcome adversity. This sense of self-efficacy becomes an invaluable tool for persisting through challenges, adherence to treatment, and ultimately achieving meaningful recovery. With patience, resilience, and an empowered perspective, the path to optimal healing is wide open!

Whether you’re on your healing journey with new or old aches, pains, or injuries, we’re here to help! Book with us today to help you reach your goals and improve your quality of life!


  1. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.
  2. Oyefeso, O.O., et al. (2017). Effects of preoperative self-efficacy among patients undergoing total knee replacement. The Journal of Pain, 18(7), 844-853.
  3. Helminen, E.E., et al. (2015). Cognitive impairment, maladaptive coping styles and recovery over one year in first-ever stroke patients. Scandinavian Journal of Pain, 9(1), 144-152.
  4. Elkins, G., et al. (2007). Mind-body therapies in integrative oncology. Society of Integrative Oncology, 71(2), 167-173.
  5. Hassett, A.L., & Finan, P.H. (2016). The role of resilience in the clinical management of chronic pain. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 20(6), 1-9.
  6. Nicholas, M.K., et al. (2012). Self‐efficacy and chronic pain. Pain management: A practical guide for clinicians, 141-159.
  7. Amiot, C. E., et al. (2004). Integrating the self and identity: Processes of self-validation and the cognitive structural model of the self. Self and Identity, 3(1), 57-75.
  8. Amabile, T., & Kramer, S. (2011). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review, 89(5), 70-80.
  9. Peen, C., & Wong, P. T. P. (2021). Self-Efficacy as a Positive Youth Development Construct: A Conceptual Review. The Journal of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing, 5(2), 194-221.
  10. Ferreira, P. H., et al. (2013). The therapeutic alliance between clinicians and patients predicts outcome in chronic low back pain. Physical Therapy, 93(4), 470-478.
A Mom pointing in the air carrying a child with a serene stress free field overlooked by a beautiful sunset

Why You Might Be Tired All the Time, and What to Do About It

Why You Might Be Tired All the Time, and What to Do About It 1920 1280 ResilientRx

Why am I exhausted and in pain all of the time??

US culture puts a ton of stress on moms and women in general.

There is a constant underlying shame and/or guilt that you are not doing enough. And to top it off, the narrative that “doing something for yourself is selfish” is perpetuating these thoughts.

This causes moms to lose their own identities. You are not only a mom, you may be a runner, singer, pianist, artist, dancer etc.

However, along the way we lose touch with ourselves, regardless of if you are a parent or not. 

Urgency culture is wreaking havoc on our bodies.

I am here to tell you that you ARE doing the best that you can with the resources and information that you have at this moment. 

And many other people feel the same exact way as you.

A Mom pointing in the air carrying a child with a serene stress free field overlooked by a beautiful sunset

How our bodies perceive danger

But first, I want you to imagine what the chronic ongoing stress can be doing and how it can be affecting your body.

I want you to imagine how you would feel if you saw a tiger chasing you.


Frozen to the spot.

In times of stress – whether it’s running for our lives or running late for work – our bodies don’t know the difference and process the panic in the same way.

There’s a perceived danger, and our body’s sole responsibility is to keep us alive. 

If you’re always in this mode – up against deadlines, worries about money, dealing with ongoing family drama – you don’t have the time to rest and digest. 

Imagining a tiger chasing you is the best way to understand stress response

How Stress Is Impacting Your Body

This constant tension can also lead to chronic bloating and heightened cortisol – a hormone created by the adrenal glands that can up your blood sugar levels, increase belly fat and decrease your body’s response to insulin – which could eventually lead to prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes. This essentially is leading our bodies to being burnt out.

Signs you are in this “fight or flight” response include:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Craving sweets or carbs
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic headaches/jaw pain
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Chronic low back or pelvic pain
  • Constipation
  • Constantly feeling hungry
  • Bloating
  • Brain fog
  • Constantly needing stimulants (like coffee)
  • Weight gain in the mid-section (unable to lose)
Woman who is overwhelmed by her stress levels can't focus on work so she covers her face in dispair

The Body-Mind Connection

This isn’t to scare you, but to reiterate the importance of well-being, as our bodies and minds are interconnected. 

Chronically living in a stressed-out state can lead to chronic pain and illness.

As we come to the end of the month of January, coming out of the fog of New Year’s resolutions, bombarded with ads for new exercise routines or diets – I want you to think about your stress levels.

Exercising is only one form of health.

For our bodies to be in optimal health, focusing on ourselves is vital. 

I understand time, finances, work, kids, etc can be time-consuming, but just connecting with yourself can make a world of difference. 

How this applies to physical therapy

You might be thinking… How does this apply to physical therapy?

There is a direct correlation with chronic pain and chronic stress on our bodies. 

If I just treated someone’s low back without asking about the stress they are under, I am missing a huge piece of their recovery process. It doesn’t matter how many times that person is massaged or if they do their exercises, the muscles are going to go back to a tense state unless the root cause is addressed.

Busy woman sitting at desk trying to finish her work

So what can I do to support myself and my stress levels when I don’t have much time?

Here are a few questions to help you re-align yourself back to YOUR needs.

  1. Do I need to go to _______ today? (insert optional event here)
  2. Does ________ serve me or am I doing it to please someone else?
  3. Am I taking time for myself today? (even if it is 5 min in the car)
  4. What hobbies have I engaged in outside of work and the kids?
  5. Have I laughed recently?
  6. Do I sit and enjoy the food I am eating?

I know these things may sound insane, but after surviving cancer, I cannot relay this message enough.

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2019. I remember sitting in the chair getting chemo and thinking….

“Why did I care so much about what people thought of me”

“Why wasn’t I more present with the people I love”

“Why was I so worried if everything wasn’t perfect”

Nothing was scarier than not having my health. Thankfully my 3 year scans were clear.

The point is life is meant to be enjoyed. Leave the dishes in the sink, wait to reply to that email tomorrow, leave the laundry for another day… and just BE.

Your body will thank you.

The Benefits of Dry Needling

The Benefits of Dry Needling 2560 1707 ResilientRx

Have you ever had a deep tissue knot in your shoulder or back? Or perhaps you’ve had a muscle strain or even a herniated disc that was causing you significant pain. Others may even experience nerve pain in parts of their body that physical therapy and exercise don’t seem to relieve. Rather than using different exercises or manual therapy to treat these problems alone, many PTs are turning to dry needling to help their patients recover faster and restore mobility to the body.

Dry needling can mitigate pain caused by a number of issues – arthritis, nerve pain, trigger points, ligament strains, headaches, muscle spasms, and more. Before we dive into the benefits of dry needling, though, let’s start with the basics of what dry needling actually is.

What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling can be used as a part of a comprehensive plan to help restore movement and function in the body. It’s a skilled practice that uses filiform needles to penetrate the skin and stimulate trigger points. A trigger point is a place of muscular dysfunction, causing pain and impacting mobility. They can be tender to the touch and difficult to eliminate as these tight bands of skeletal muscle can cause pain to permeate into other parts of the body. 

How do trigger points form? Inflammation builds up in muscles that are injured or overused, causing tension and depriving the muscles of oxygen which occurs from the impaired blood flow. This causes the muscle to be taut, limiting normal movement of the muscle.

How Dry Needling Works

To perform dry needling, a PT will insert super-thin needles into the skin. The needles stimulate the myofascial trigger points, creating twitches and muscle reflexes. These reflexes decrease muscle tension, reducing irritation and pain while improving flexibility. This increases blood flow to the area to promote healing.

By using dry needling, a Doctor of Physical Therapy can target these areas and stimulate them in a way they can’t do with regular physical therapy techniques. It can be painless but most people say the cramping is more of the sensation which can be slightly painful for some. Some patients also report some soreness around the needle sites for around 24-48 hours, while others don’t feel any soreness.

Benefits of Dry Needling

By inserting needles into trigger points on the body, the muscles relax, boosting blood flow, diminishing inflammation, and triggering an immune system response. There are four specific benefits to dry needling:

Relief of pain

Looking for immediate pain relief? Pain improves as blood flow is restored, moving acidic wastes away from the muscle and providing those areas with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood. Many people report immediate relief after one session, but some do require additional sessions.

Improving mobility

When you have tight knotted muscles, the tendency is to stop moving and limit your mobility and movement to avoid pain. By combining dry needling with physical therapy, strength and mobility are restored and future trigger points can be avoided.

Quicker Recovery 

Regardless of the injury or pain, restoring movement is the best way to heal and recover. While physical therapy can be the main component of treatment, adding dry needling to the treatment plan can help speed up your recovery time. 

Assists with Chronic pain

Dry needling specifically helps with chronic conditions such as back or neck pain. This can result in trigger points and tenderness. Patients with chronic pain who have had dry needling report significant pain improvement. It helps to increase blood flow to these areas that are impaired and help improve mobility

Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture 

While both dry needling and acupuncture use the same filiform needles, they are vastly different practices. Acupuncture is based on eastern medicine principles, and it’s focused on different points and meridians throughout the body. Needles are used superficially to assist with the flow of energy. Based on western medicine, dry needling inserts needles into a specific part of the muscle that is causing dysfunction and pain. 

Is Pain Holding You Back?

Are you limited in mobility and function because of pain impacting daily activities? We can evaluate your movement, strength, and function to form a plan of care, whether that’s dry needling, PT, or home exercises, that can get you back to doing the things you love. If you are struggling with pain or an injury, our physical therapists can help! Start moving again with help from ResilientRx. Book a consultation online today!

How Stress and Anxiety Affect Pain

How Stress and Anxiety Affect Pain 2560 1707 ResilientRx

Anxiety disorders, commonly associated with chronic stress, are the most common mental illnesses in the United States. In fact, anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million adults each year. People suffering from anxiety are three to five times more likely to visit the doctor than those without anxiety disorders.

The reason?

Stress and anxiety do not just have an impact on the mind. Together, they cause or enhance chronic pain. Many of us forget that anxiety or worry can cause several painful physical symptoms — chronic fatigue, heart palpitations, muscle aches and weaknesses, headaches, and more. 

Here’s a deeper look into the impact chronic stress and anxiety have on the body.

Man really feeling how stress and anxiety affect pain

How can stress and anxiety impact pain response? 

Have you ever noticed that your muscles hurt more when you’re worried about work or family? Do you get headaches more as you think about something too much? These are all small signs of how anxiety and stress can impact our body’s pain levels.

Research has also proven that stress and anxiety can influence pain perception (how we perceive pain). Some people, when their cortisol levels spike, experience stress-induced analgesia — which suppresses our sensation of pain. 

Stress-induced hyperalgesia, on the other hand, occurs when stress, anxiety, or even fear, are already present, elevating pain and increasing intensity and duration. 

The fight or flight response affects pain

We all know the “flight or fight” response our bodies experience when we undergo stress. When our bodies activate this response, it dumps higher levels of cortisol into the bloodstream which spikes our blood sugar. Your body also experiences an increased heart rate and adrenaline output. Over a period of time, this influx of cortisol can harm your body and cause you to be more susceptible to injury and pain. 

In the fallout of this response, people tend to feel exhausted, which can heighten mental and physical ailments and decrease their immune system response. 

The nervous system and stress

Stress is very closely aligned to the nervous system. Your body’s reaction to stress can tip off pain perception in the body and, because the nervous system extends into the brain, can impact the way your body responds to pain. Over time, your body may develop a more sensitive nervous system reaction to stress and anxiety, which could be the cause of chronic pain. 

Woman sits at computer looking very stressed out and anxious because of how stress and anxiety affect pain

Common physical symptoms of stress and anxiety

The longer a person experiences chronic stress and anxiety the more intense the symptoms may be. You could equate it to heart health — the longer you eat fatty, high-sugar, and highly processed foods, the greater your chances are for heart disease. So, the more often you’re stressed, the more vulnerable your body becomes because of the wear and tear that results. 

Symptoms of stress and anxiety often go unnoticed or are mistaken for something minor. However, consistently experiencing the following systems can wear out your body. 


This is the most common symptom associated with stress and anxiety. Because the mind is in a constant state of alertness, it tires out much faster than the mind of someone who may not often experience stress and anxiety. Even after healthy sleep, people can still feel exhausted because of mental fatigue or the physical symptoms that come along with prolonged high-cortisol levels in the body. 

Heart palpitations

Having heart palpitations can be distressing, which may cause a continued increase in cortisol levels and can increase heart rate. Heart palpitations feel as though your heart is pounding too fast and skipping beats. 

Muscle aches and weakness

Tension is usually to blame for muscle and joint pain caused by stress and anxiety. Prolonged periods of these emotions cause muscles to tense up and leave you feeling stiff. A high level of stress consistently can impact immune system functions, making it more difficult for your body to fight off inflammation. 

Muscles also tend to become weak, especially in the legs and arms. During a fight or flight response, blood flow is increased to the limbs to make it easier to take action against a perceived threat. After the adrenaline response has ended, muscles can become sore and painful. 

Woman laying down clutching her head and stomach feeling sore from stress and anxiety


Headaches and migraines are other common results of chronic pain and anxiety. Because other systems, such as teeth grinding, tension in the face, and poor posture often accompany stress and anxiety, prevalent headaches and migraines that are extremely painful are likely. Sharp pain or dull aches accompanied by pressure in the head and eyes are usually the headaches caused by stress and anxiety. 

Find relief for your pain

Stress and anxiety are common ailments in the U.S., but if you’re experiencing pain that you believe is associated with stress, it’s time to get help — for both your brain and your body. The key is to manage daily habits to ensure this type of pain does not get out of hand. 

If you are experiencing pain that is impacting your daily life, our team can help. With extensive training in treating patients with chronic stress and anxiety disorders, we can get you back on track to feeling calm, relaxed, and healthy in no time. 

To find relief from your chronic pain, book a free consultation today!

Self Care

Why is Self Care Important?

Why is Self Care Important? 1200 799 ResilientRx
Surprise– eating clean and exercising doesn’t make you a “healthy” person.

Healthy living is beyond exercising.

Living healthily is a conscious effort to take care of your physical body and mental health. “Self-care” is a phrase you have probably heard often, especially lately, and with good reason! Self-care addresses your physical health- lack of sleep, limited exercise, diet, etc., as well as mental health- stress, relationships, life changes, etc.

We have two main automatic regulatory nervous systems (autonomic nervous system):

  • the sympathetic nervous system
  • parasympathetic nervous systems

These systems help to regulate breathing, digestion, heart rate, etc. without a conscious effort. In other words, these things happen without us thinking about them or deciding they will happen.

The sympathetic nervous system is known as the stress response. You may have heard of this as the “fight or flight” response. The parasympathetic is the “rest and digest” response- the system that calms you down.

Here is an example of how the sympathetic nervous system works:

Imagine being stuck in traffic when you are late to work. You might start to clench your jaw or grip your steering wheel. In that moment you are feeding your body stress.

This stress activates the sympathetic nervous system and causes the body to tense up and release cortisol. Cortisol is released during any stressful event from the adrenal glands that sit above the kidneys.

Whether you are stuck in traffic or being chased by a tiger, bodies react in the same way.

Chronically stressing our bodies, can cause:

Keep this in mind if you are experiencing chronic pain. It could be caused by stress and not just misalignment. Although there are many things that are out of our control, you can use some of the tips below to help manage your stress.

Tips on reducing stress:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Place your hand on your chest and your lower belly/ribs. As you inhale, feel your lower belly and ribs expand. This helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Planning ahead: Try to avoid running late when possible. This gives you ample time to get you’re your destination without being stressed by traffic and other factors that you cannot control.
  • Mindfulness: Check in with yourself, do you feel tense in your body? Take a minute to breath and ask yourself why you are tense and focus on relaxing the muscles that feel tense.
  • Avoid foods high in sugar: Try to maintain your blood sugar levels. Eating too much sugar and caffeine can spike your cortisol levels.
  • Exercise: Go on a 15 to 20-minute walk outside in the sun. This will help to calm your sympathetic nervous system. (Zankert S., Kudielka, B., Wust, S., 2020)

Of course, this just scratches the surface and we are here to help along the way! Stress can also exacerbate issues with your physical body that you might already have. In our office, we look at our clients holistically to see how all elements can add or take away from feeling your best. Ready to start feeling better? Book an appointment with us now!

Written by: Mary Grimberg PT, DPT, OCS