Chiropractic Care

Sympathetic Dominance

By October 12, 2016 March 30th, 2020 No Comments

Dr Xanthe Hand, Chiropractor

This may not be something you have heard of before. Although the name is new, the problem itself has been rampant throughout society for a long time, and is only increasing in severity and frequency as time passes. So what is it?

Your nervous system is divided into parts; one of those is called the autonomic nervous system. This division of the nervous system is in charge of all of the bodily functions that seem to occur without conscious thought; breathing, digestion, hormone release and so on. That autonomic nervous system is again divided into two; the sympathetic system, which prepares you to fight or to run from a threat (e.g. a lion chasing you), and the parasympathetic system, which allows you to rest, digest, heal and regenerate (e.g. when you are relaxed reading a book on holiday).

The two parts of the autonomic nervous system are constantly activated, but in opposing forces. Think of it like a seesaw – if one system is activated (e.g. the high side of the seesaw), the other system will be activated, but a lot less (e.g. the low side). Both systems need to be activated somewhat all the time for you to be healthy and lively, and they will go up and down depending on what is going on in your life.

When we are under stress (e.g. being chased by a lion), the sympathetic system activates at high levels to ensure that we stay alive.
This system encourages blood flow to your big mover muscles in the legs for running, dilates your pupils so you can see more, increases your heart rate, decreases blood flow to your digestive, immune and reproductive systems (because who needs to eat dinner, fight off a cold and make babies when they are about to be eaten by a lion?) and causes postural changes, such as a forward head posture and rolled shoulders, which prepares you to run or fight. We may not actually be running from a lion, but similar stressful events such as a fight with our spouse, work deadlines or a family tragedy can activate this system. The problem arises when this system stays highly activated once the ‘threat’ is gone.

If the sympathetic nervous system stays in a dominant, over-excited state chronically, this can cause many issues. Initially it will present as typical stress; tense shoulders, anxious feelings, possibly nausea in the abdomen, worrying about things, not sleeping deeply or well, and so on. At this point your stress glands are working hard to keep producing enough stress hormone (cortisol) to keep up with the demand.

If this pattern continues for a long period of time, eventually the stress glands will not be able to keep up, and will stop producing enough or any cortisol. This results in a chain reaction of changes in the body, including:

  • Postural changes such as the head moving forward over the shoulders and spine, the shoulders rolling forward into the chest, shoulder tension, and increased curve in the lower back
  • Sleep trouble such as difficulty falling asleep, waking through the night, sensitivity to light (e.g. digital clock face) or sound at night and vivid dreams
  • Unbalanced thyroid hormones, leading to decreased energy levels, sensitivity to the cold, difficulty losing weight, or stiff and swollen joints
  • Decreased immunity
  • Unbalanced reproductive hormones, for women leading to oestrogen dominance (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, uterine fibroids, heavy /painful or irregular periods, depression, low sex drive, breast soreness and mood changes) and for men low testosterone (loss of strength, memory and concentration, decreased libido)
  • Leaky gut syndrome (bloating, gas, IBS-like symptoms, constipation/diarrhea)
  • Gall stones
  • Depression, anxiety or mood changes
  • Hypertension

As you can see, if this problem is not seen to early on, it can lead to a lot of devastating effects which are much harder to reverse then they originally were.
With the ‘normal’ and accepted pressures of modern society today, sympathetic dominance is easily cultivated and encouraged through everyday life. The expectations on our bodies are progressively increasing as we battle to achieve more and more everyday, making our goals unrealistic.

The Chiropractors at Carlin Chiropractic have undergone training in Sympathetic Dominance to help people to overcome the issue and improve general health. If you would like to be assessed for sympathetic dominance or for a Chiropractic assessment, please contact Carlin Chiropractic on (08) 9385 2388