Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) or Complex Regional Pain Disorder (CRPD) is an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS responds to stimuli, trauma, sudden insults, or viruses and other toxic substances. The signals travel to the brain from proprioceptors or through injured parts of the body. The limbic system that controls emotional or sub conscious responses activates the skin, hair, and smooth muscles like the colon or bladder. The activating part is called the sympathetic or stimulating nervous system. Imagine a car accelerator. The calming part is called the parasympathetic nervous system. Imagine a car brake or gravity pulling down and a parachute braking your descent through the air.

An over reaction or long term (chronic) response in the sympathetic nervous system is exhausting for the systems in your body. You might feel an itchy burning sensation or pain that persists long after the initial cause has subsided. An acute response might include sweating, raised hairs, goose bumps and swelling. In a chronic response the skin might go dry and stiff with loss of muscle strength and tone.

To address the issues we need to understand where the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves come from. The sympathetic nerves largely come from the spinal chord under your ribcage. The ganglia or nerve junction boxes lie just under your ribs. If one of your ribs has been dislodged by only a fraction the nerves will be acutely painful. Often people are tested for heart disease because of chest pain when the sympathetic nerves are on edge. At the very base of your neck there are some nerves that supply the eyes. Near there are receptors that help to govern your heart rate. In your middle ribcage some nerves affect your digestion.

The parasympathetic nerves originate from the area under your sacrum at the base of your back and just under your skull at the top of your neck. The vagus nerve also wanders down your neck, emerging from a gap in your skull between the bony bump behind your ears (mastoid), and the bones at the back of your head (the occiput).

So what can help us to balance the two systems?

Yoga twists especially seated, help to unlock the ribcage releasing the sympathetic nerves and squeezing your inner organs like the liver to refresh the blood flow. Lying on a yoga block or rolled up towel can also open up your rib cage.

Chiropractic or Osteopathic manipulation helps to release the facet joints that sometimes lock the spine and affect the nerves.

Massage especially with firm pressure from experienced hands helps to unlock the spinal sympathetic nerves.

Skin brushing or stroking has a calming effect giving feedback to the spinal nerves.

Massage just under the skull and around the sacrum helps to calm the nervous system and release the parasympathetic nerves. For instance the sexual organs are stimulated by the nerves at the junction between ribs and lumbar and given intense pleasure from the nerves that emerge from the sacrum.

Acidity of the bloodstream can affect the autonomic nervous system. The blood passes through receptors and proprioceptors that trigger responses in the ANS. I once treated an environmental health officer who suffered from digestive upsets since giving up smoking. We successfully unlocked the ribcage through manipulation and improved the breathing through the diaphragm. He still had some irritable bowel disorder. I put him on a teaspoon of Aspalls cider vinegar before meals with meat and other proteins and fats in them. Cider vinegar contains malic acid that helps digestion of fats and assists the hydrochloric acid in the stomach to break down proteins into peptides. Smoking had probably changed the acidity of his bloodstream. His digestion made a dramatic improvement.


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