The Mind-Spine Connection

image4

When the public thinks about the mind-body connection, they mostly think it’s a one-way street.  If you are positive enough, you can suppress feelings of pain.  If you’re always negative, you can make yourself sick.  It’s not so simple.

The connection between the mind and body is via the nerves.  In fact, the mind, located in the brain, is made up of a huge conglomeration of nerves.  Other masses of nerves, “plexuses” (and possible locations of the “mind”) may correlate to “chakras” or high energy points in the body.  The brain, plexuses and other nerves connect via the spinal cord, the “nerve highway” between the brain and the rest of the cells of the body.  Smaller nerves then carry information in all directions, to and from the brain, different organs, different systems, and within each of these various parts in a complicated web.  Therefore, the mind can affect the body and vice-versa.  Because the spinal cord is the main information highway, issues affecting the spine can interfere with proper nerve impulse transmission to and from the mind and body, resulting in all kinds of mental, physical and emotional issues.

Emotions are intricately related to one’s nerves and hormones in the brain, but the brain doesn’t work in isolation.  The brain is highly influenced by messages from other parts of the body; information about what’s going on elsewhere in the body and outside the body as well.  Much of this information goes straight to our subconscious, like maintaining an upright posture, pH levels in the body, hormone levels, hair growth, muscle repair, etc.   Some information can be perceived in our conscious brain, but only if we put focus on it, like our breathing, pressure points, the view around us, temperature and movement.  From an emotional standpoint, all messages can be categorized as positive (mood enhancing), neutral (peaceful) or negative (distressing).

All messages, positive, neutral and negative, travel along nerves, many of them through the spine.  Even if they don’t travel through the spine, they will be influenced by nerves stimulation in the spine.  These pathways, if used frequently, become reinforced and send their messages more immediately and faster… more automatic, instinctual and reflexive.  We call this hyper-sensitization.  If your body is generally feeling good, positive feelings become the default.  If your body experiences chronic pain and negativity, it goes looking for more pain and reasons to be upset.  Chronic over-stimulation can sometimes lead to de-sensitization or tolerance, meaning you’re less aware of the extreme (often negative) body state.  While this sounds good, it means the deleterious effects of the nerve distress continue subconsciously and are less likely to get resolution.  Lesser-used pathways seem to have a relatively delayed, even hesitant response, and can eventually disintegrate as a forgotten response.  Unfortunately, it is possible to forget how to ride a bike, speak a language, and even how to feel joy.

When the spine is in good alignment, nerve messages can travel with ease to and from the mind and body.  The messages are accurate and in proper proportion.  The vast majority of messages will be subconscious and of the neutral variety, concerning the current body state.  If one practices mindfulness, most of what you can be aware of is generally neutral, neither irritating, nor elating.  Over time, one can gain greater appreciation for what one took for granted.  The irritations become less significant and what was considered neutral can take on a positive tinge.

When the spine is misaligned, either in large areas or at discrete points, messages get distorted.  We call these misalignments “subluxations”.  Subluxations can be so subtle that we are unaware of their effects, or so acute and painful (ie. “hot disc”) that they temporarily incapacitate a person.  Because subluxations cause irritation and damage to spinal nerves and eventually to the spinal cord itself, the body will activate “negative” messages to cue the brain to enact protective actions, like inflammation and scar tissue formation.  These “negative” messages from nerve irritation adds a “negative” tinge to other nerves that pass through the area and contributes to an overall negative state of mind.  Add this to the reinforcement of negative pathways and it’s no surprise a person with subluxations becomes more moody, irritable, frustrated, stressed, aggressive or depressed.  Subconsciously, “negative” messages will also negatively affect organs and systems, letting them break down easier.  This can show up eventually as digestive problems, weakened immunity, hormonal imbalances and cardiovascular problems.  Subluxations can arise from injuries, large and small, including accidents, sports injuries, repetitive stress and poor posture.  People with poor fitness, poor diets, chemical or radiation toxicity are more prone to subluxations than others.

Alignment of the spine is only one factor involved in the spinal influence on mood.  Movement of the spine, however, is responsible for “90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain” according to Dr. Roger Sperry, Nobel prize winner.  Dr. Sperry’s research demonstrated that 90% of the brain’s energy goes into processing and maintaining the body’s relationship with gravity.  Since this information is generally neutral, movement of the spine is associated with equanimity or peacefulness.  To be at peace, move around, rather than sit all day.  Movement of the spine also causes an increase in feel-good hormones in the brain and body, like endorphins.  It’s no wonder why people who exercise tend to have better moods, less stress and more restful sleep.  Opt for whole-body activities outdoors that involve attention to balance, posture and your surroundings.  Ideal exercises include stand-up paddling, yoga, tai chi, martial arts, ballet, dance, hiking, cross-country running or skiing, ice skating and pilates.  Couple movement with mindfulness and mood gets a further boost.  For maximum mood enhancement, add chiropractic to reverse subluxations. With proper spinal alignment, you’ll take the pain out of movement, and massively increase mobility of individual spinal joints so all movements (including breathing) become easier and more effective for stimulating the brain and releasing endorphins.  Unlike de-sensitization from chronic pain overload, chiropractic helps promote healing of the nerve so it becomes less hypersensitive and sends proper and appropriate messages around the body and brain.

Do you notice you or your child is easily irritable, distracted, hypersensitive, moody, quick to anger, easily frustrated, stressed, fatigued, unmotivated, restless, losing interest in hobbies or just plain unhappy?  Before resorting to medications, or if behaviour interventions aren’t helping, consider chiropractic care to restore good nerve patterns and hormone levels in the brain and body.  When the spine and mind are working well in unison, all other positive activities become much more effective and life can be easier, more fulfilling, and happier for all involved.

We call it “nerve distress” or a “compromised nervous system” when subluxations impede the nerves ability to function well and affect the mind and body.  Mood and emotions are only one area that can get impacted by negative messages from nerve distress.  Other areas that can suffer include behaviour, personality, learning, the immune system, hormonal control, sensory integration and sensitivity to pain.  Find out if nervous system compromise is affecting your or your kids’ emotions and quality of life with our Baseline Health Assessment.  It’s free for kids and teens because it is our mission to make a difference in young people to get a great start in life.  Call (604)566-9088 or visit www.FamilyWellnessChiro.ca to get started!

image 5