Treating Mind & Body – A Simple Biological Explanation

Treating Mind & Body – A Simple Biological Explanation

These days I find most of my clients are very open to discussing the mind & body connection which is central to my osteopathic work. I like to work with my clients to expand this idea with some thoughts about the effect of adrenalin (and cortisol) on pain in the hope that helping people understand some of the mechanism behind this concept they can engage with it in a way that helps them to help me find the best way to help them!

My usual explanation goes a bit like this:

When we are stressed, there are higher levels of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) in the blood. Also blood is not selective, it goes everywhere. So there will be elevated stress hormones in the little toe and the deepest parts of the brain. We know all that but what does it mean?

One of the roles of stress hormones is to make us more alert ie they make us (our nerves) more sensitive. It makes all our nerves more sensitive. The brain (which is just a big ball of nerves) becomes more sensitive resulting in symptoms like anxiety and insomnia. The nerves in the ears become more sensitive making quiet sounds seem louder as we listen for danger. And our pain nerves (nociceptors), like for example those associated with sciatica, become more sensitive and we can experience the pain of a mild injury more acutely. And we know pain in it’s self can be stressful.

So we come to a question that I often have in my head when trying to understand a client. Is the stress of the pain making the pain worse or is other life stress making the pain worse? This answer varies but finding the right answer is always a good step towards the right treatment.

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