How Physical Therapy Can Help Your Anxiety and Stress

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We have mentioned many times in our blog posts that PRI is a holistic and global form of physical therapy. Not only do we look at the body and its mechanics as a whole to assess and address our patient's pain and dysfunction, but we also address the neurological system that is impacting movement patterns as well.

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) can be broken into two parts: the Parasympathetic Nervous System (the "rest and digest" system), and the Sympathetic Nervous System (the "fight or flight" system). Symptoms of an overactive sympathetic nervous system include increased heart rate, shallow breathing dominated by our accessory respiratory muscles versus our diaphragm, muscular contraction or tightness, weight bearing on the balls of our feet, and/or biting on our front teeth. 

Our patients typically present with an extended lower back and forward tipped pelvis. This places weight on the balls of our feet, shallow breathing with our accessory respiratory muscles (because our diaphragm is now in a non-functional position), and poor jaw position causing biting on our front teeth versus our molars. This begins a vicious cycle: increased sympathetic nervous system tone causes more of these muscular impairments and positions which causes more sympathetic nervous system tone. The goal of PRI is to reduce sympathetic nervous system over-activation in order to restore musculoskeletal balance and reeducate the body how to move. 

Although we are typically manipulating the ANS in order to address musculoskeletal issues, our techniques directly effect anxiety as well. It is impossible to feel anxious without an increase in our sympathetic nervous system. Therefore, the very same exercises that PRI uses to fix our patient's low back pain, can have a profound effect on their complaints of anxiety and be used as a tool to manage it. 

The use of a balloon and abdominal muscles that is at the heart of PRI principles is meant to reposition and regain function of the diaphragm. Not only does this help restore posture and musculoskeletal function, but it also directly decreases sympathetic nervous system tone while increasing the parasympathetic system. We have heard many stories from our patients about how they use their home exercises to help them manage stress more than they do for their lower back pain. We have also seen the change in our patient's nervous system tone while performing exercises. The patient that used to breathe quickly and shallowly and had a slightly flushed look has a more relaxed respiratory pattern and complexion. We also frequently hear things like "I can finally take a deep breath!"

Interested in learning more or want to see this in action? Call Integrate 360 Physical Therapy at 314-733-5000 or email or today to set up your evaluation.