It is known that if a 'stressed' individual can be placed on an optimum diet and be encouraged to exercise regularly, to take regular and adequate rest, then many 'diseases' of stress simply go away. If, at the same time, other aspects of the individual’s life style (attitudes, amount of work undertaken, personality traits etc.) can be modified, then even more improvement can be expected. It is interesting to know that it is quite possible for an aggressive, compulsively hard working, individual to change into a relaxed and carefree one, by the altering of attitudes and behaviour. The statement 'that's how I am, I'm afraid', is meaningless— we can change if it matters enough.
What is it that determines which part of the body will break down under prolonged stress?. There are inherited tendencies of course and this must be borne in mind. There is another key 'organizer' within the body, to which the osteopathic profession, in particular, pays much attention. This is the nervous system and the role of spinal dysfunction in affecting the way in which particular patterns of ill-health are manifested. Extensive research in the U.S.A., much of this conducted by Professor Irvin Korr over the past 35 years has established the following:
- That there exists in most people's spines, areas, or segments, which are abnormal or aberrant in one of (at least) three ways. These areas may be hypersensitive to pressure; restricted in mobility (movement) or asymmetrical (out of position). Such changes are common, even in apparently healthy people.
- These areas are abnormal in the degree of tension or tone that is present in the local soft tissues, and the nerves in such an area respond abnormally to any stimulus. Some of the nerve cells which deal with messages of sensation, or which direct automatic function, or which direct voluntary function, will be in a state of chronic overexcitability. In other words they will react more rapidly and more strongly, and for longer, than they should, to even a mild stimulus of any sort.
- This state of over-reaction is often manifested in the tissues or organs which these nerve cells supply, or control.
These abnormally reacting segments may result from injury, or postural stress, or they may result from problems in a particular organ or system (say a diseased gall bladder) which feeds back 'irritable' messages along the nerves supplying it, to the spinal centres, where local irritation may become chronic and cause changes in the tone of the soft tissue. Whether the initial cause is reflex (from the organ to the spinal area) or direct, i.e. biomechanical changes in the spine itself, the result is an over-reacting segment of the nervous system. Since the nervous system organizes the body's adaptive and protective functions, in dealing with all environmental variations and extremes (changes of temperature, increased activity etc.), as well as its reaction to emotional stress (alarm reaction etc. ), such a state of over-excitability, in a particular area, has enormous local and distant consequences.
Instead of, for example an organ being controlled in a balanced harmonious way, it might be kept in a state of near constant over-(or under-) stimulation, because the nerve centres controlling its function are in this condition. As previously mentioned, such an area is known as a facilitated segment (i.e. it allows easier conduction of nerve impulses and activity). These result in unpredictable effects on the target organ. If such an area occurs in the upper spinal region it might be associated, for example, with heart dysfunction. A definite pattern of spinal lesion has been found in most cases of angina pectoris (severe constricting pain in the chest). If, in a mid-spinal area, then the effect might be on the digestive organs such as the liver or pancreas etc. Now, it must be remembered that although the spinal area is maintaining such over-, or under-, activity via the nervous system, the problem might have originated in the organ itself, for a variety of reasons (infection, toxic state etc. ), and the spinal irritation and consequent facilitated state might originally have resulted from this.