The nervous system controls everything in our bodies, from movements, to thoughts, to digestion and everything in between. It is the most complex system in our bodies, and is divided into many categories, each with it's own very important job. In this discussion we are going to talk about the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
The Autonomic nervous system deals predominantly with the internal environment of the body and is self-regulating. The term “auto” means independent law or control, so therefore the autonomic nervous system has independent control over our internal body systems (temperature, pH, blood pressure etc.) without conscious influence. This system is divided into two subdivisions, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Each organ system in the body will have both sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation, and in general if the sympathetic division is excitatory to that organ, then the parasympathetic will be inhibitory to that organ. The sympathetic division is known as our “fight or flight” system, while the parasympathetic division is known as the “rest and digest”. The balance of these divisions of the nervous system is responsible for maintaining health. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for increased heart rate, dilation of arteries to the muscles, dilation of the bronchioles in the lungs, secretion of epinephrine, decreased gastrointestinal motility and increased sweat gland activity. The parasympathetic nervous system activates digestion, expands capillaries in the skin, constricts pupils, reduces heart rate and constricts the bronchioles in the lungs.
So why do I tell you this? Why are these systems important to understand and take into consideration? When an individual has been experiencing pain, whether it be acute or chronic, the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous systems begins to overshadow the parasympathetic division. Increased cortisol and epinephrine (stress hormones) are secreted and can have an effect on almost all body systems. Over time, this imbalance can lead to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, insomnia and high blood pressure. Through daily stresses and busy lifestyles, the “fight or flight” division of the nervous system takes over and makes it difficult for the body to maintain homeostasis and balanced health. Making lifestyle changes, eating well and maintaining spinal health can help to balance the autonomic nervous system and reduce stress.