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How can you assess yourself for stress-related back pain?

When our sympathetic nervous system is revved up it initiates a flight or fight response, our heart and breathing rates go up, our digestive system slows down, and we get more blood to the muscles ready to run or fight. This is good if we are trying to escape from danger, but what happens if the perceived threat doesn’t go away?

We end up with chronic stress.

We know that sympathetic activity levels, the fight-flight response, increase with chronic stress, putting extra pressure on the immune system and inflammatory responses. When this happens, it can prolong or bring out that niggling back pain.

The muscles tightened up around the area and we end up with achy annoying pain that’s hard to get rid of. This can also affect our ribs and consequently our breathing. 

Here’s a quick and simple assessment to use  if you might have a “stressed back” .

You can either do this yourself or have someone else put their hands along the lower part of your rib cage just beside your elbow. Having someone else feel this gives you a reference point and the helper might feel if the rib motion isn’t symmetrical.  

  • Sit down comfortably in a quiet room.
  • Breath in and feel how far your lower ribs move up and out.
  • Try to notice if the breathing motion comes from the upper chest, more in the abdomen, or a balance of both.
  • Try to feel any restriction on a certain side or portion of the rib cage.
Breathing pattern | Diaphragm | Osteopathy | Retrain Breathing | Surrey Hills

The asymmetries we identify with inhalation (breathing in) include:

  • the lower ribs don’t expand outwards 
  • shoulder raising dominates their inhalation
  • difficulty in taking a full breath

These findings can suggest muscle & joint restriction in the body due to stress. 

Several ways Osteopaths encourage neck and ribcage mobility include manipulation & articulation, and rib raising & stretching of muscles between the ribs (intercostals).  According to the evidence, this may decrease sympathetic activity and encourage the parasympathetic system which helps relax the body.

Working on the main breathing muscle the Diaphragm, has also been shown to improve rib cage movement and breathing during physical activity.  

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