The autonomic nervous (ANS) system of the body controls the functioning of glands, organs, heart rate, respiration, urination, sexual arousal, blood pressure, digestion and more. The ANS has two branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These autonomic systems, as the name implies, work continuously and automatically and in this blog I will give a general overview of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) while next week I will discuss the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The SNS originates from the spinal cord and exits the spine from T1 (the first thoracic vertebra at the base of the neck) all the way down to L2 or L3 (the second or third lumbar vertebra located in the lower back). The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) regulates the “fight or flight” response, controlling activities such as pupil dilation, increasing heart rate, sweating, blood pressure and blood lipids such as cholesterol. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) on the other hand activates processes associated with “rest and recovery”, such as salivation, tears, sexual arousal, urination, digestion and defecation.
Having a certain level of sympathetic tone within the body is appropriate and healthy. For instance, when running away from danger or needing to urgently move your body the sympathetic nervous system acts like nitro for a car giving you increased strength, speed and heightened awareness for short periods. Having an elevated sympathetic tone would also be appropriate when needing to get up in the morning, or before giving an important presentation or athletic contest except maybe not as robustly as when running for your life! However, having an elevated sympathetic response for longer periods of time can be devastating to health and has been associated with virtually all chronic diseases. For instance, when the SNS is more active it down-regulates PNS activities such as immune function, healing and digestion.
This is where chiropractic care can be helpful. Chiropractic adjustments of misaligned spinal segments have been shown to affect the autonomic nervous system by helping down-regulate the SNS and promoting PNS activity. This allows the body to take the proverbial foot off the accelerator and apply the brakes bringing the body back into balance or homeostasis. This autonomic balancing restores the body’s innate ability to heal and digest and as a bonus increases immune functioning while also lowering pain sensitivity.
A chiropractor will conduct a thorough examination and history to determine if there is an imbalance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. An imbalance such as this could be contributing to many health problems and may be restored to balance with chiropractic adjustments and other lifestyle changes. This balancing of the autonomic nervous systems and moving towards a state of homeostasis is why many people report greater feelings of wellbeing and less need for medication and surgeries when under chiropractic care.
Next week I will discuss the other half of the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic system. If you have any questions about this article or chiropractic care, you can call us any time at 250-592-5553.
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