By Sherry McAllister, DC
There is an ecological concept called “climate climax” — a provocative name loosely defined as a community in which populations of plants or animals remain stable and exist in balance with each other and their environment. In simple terms, it is a community that has reached its peak state and can withstand the naturally occurring disruptive forces that attempt to knock it out of alignment.
Achieving this state of balance and stability in our minds and bodies is a goal for many people. In 2022, however, this aspiration hardly seems feasible. Climate disruption, continued uncertainty over the COVID-19 pandemic and associated social isolation, economic concerns, widespread chronic pain, a growing opioid epidemic and other stressors are devastating our physical and mental health.
Feeling powerless to stop these crises inside and outside our bodies leads many individuals to seek risky, but immediate solutions such as substance and/or alcohol misuse. The cycle of mental anguish and harmful self-medication can be unceasing until the individual receives an effective mental/physical health intervention.
An intervention includes a holistic plan that includes mental healthcare, nutrition, exercise, chiropractic care and social connection. By achieving this balance and stability in our lives, we can create a climate climax within our own ecosystem. For example, not only is chiropractic care natural and drug-free, but evidence also continues to emerge demonstrating its efficacy, patient satisfaction and association with fewer opioid prescriptions. At the same time, controlling physical pain can help individuals be more receptive to mental healthcare while chiropractic amplifies its benefits by treating the whole patient and not just symptoms.
Impact on Physical Health and Wellness
Added to the climate disruption-related stress is the continued unpredictable surges of the COVID-19 virus, now in its third year. The remote work trend spawned during the pandemic also appears to be reaching an endemic stage and will be with us for the foreseeable future. Sixty percent of employees work from home at least one day a week, which can take a toll on our bodies. Without an ergonomically structured home office, employees may suffer from neuromusculoskeletal disorders in the neck, back, shoulders and wrists more quickly than with a properly designed workspace. With no need to walk to a meeting room or a colleague’s office, employees risk remaining in the same seated position staring at a screen for too long, also increasing their risk for aches and pains.
While many employees prefer working from home, others find it more stressful due to the lifestyle disruption, family and other distractions at home. Results from a survey of employees fielded during the pandemic found 75% of employees have experienced burnout at work, with 40% reporting burnout specifically during the pandemic and 37% admitted to working longer hours. Only 21% of employees, however, said they were able to have open, productive conversations with human resources about burnout.
Another fallout from the pandemic, according to a study published in 2022, is individuals who have had COVID-19 were 60% more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who were uninfected. In their study of medical records, researchers also found those infected with the virus were 34% more likely to develop opioid use disorders and 20% more likely to develop nonopioid substance-use disorders involving alcohol or illegal drugs, and 46% more likely to have suicidal thoughts.
These chronic psychological stressors trigger physical reactions in all areas of the body, even some that are so small and subtle we do not realize the damage occurring. Certainly, most of us notice when our body tenses before an immediate stressful event, such as a vehicle collision or a fall. When the stress is less sudden and constant, it causes our muscles to be in a constant state of guardedness, according to the American Psychological Association. Likewise, migraine headaches are associated with chronic muscle tension in the shoulders, neck and head. Low back and upper extremity pain have also been linked to stress.
The Continued Pain Epidemic
Without confronting this chronic pain, there can be no climate climax. Unfortunately, a 17-year study published in April 2021, discovered “extensive escalation of pain prevalence” across adult men and women in the U.S. ages 25 through 84. The study found the steepest increases in joint pain, which increased by 21% over the period, and for low back and neck pain (15% and 16% increases). Researchers note that their findings “support the need for broad interdisciplinary research on, and interventions for effective responses to, the growing problem of pain in the United States.”
As shown in the COVID-19 mental health study, unabated stress and depression due to chronic pain and other causes can prompt individuals to misuse substances such as opioids; sedatives, such as benzodiazepines; and alcohol for relief from mental and/or physical distress. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 100,000 Americans died of such drug overdoses in 12 months between 2020 and 2021. Most of the opioids contributing to these deaths were illicit forms, such as fentanyl and heroin, but prescription opioid fatalities also increased during this time.
Seeking Holistic Care
Chiropractic care is indicated to relieve neuromusculoskeletal pain and improve function, but its effects are much broader. Symptoms of depression, for example, such as high cortisol, high adrenalin, insomnia, agitation and anxiety, can be attributed to over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system. After reviewing studies, researchers in 2020 determined that spinal manipulation—which is performed by a DC in 97% of instances—may activate the parasympathetic system to counterbalance the activity of the sympathetic system and thus reduce depression symptoms. Stimulating the parasympathetic system is also considered an effective therapy for major depression as it releases neurotrophins essential for anti-depressive therapies, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor and nerve growth factor, according to researchers.
Since chiropractic care is holistic, a DC can recommend other behavior and lifestyle changes that can likewise improve physical and mental health, such as improving one’s posture. Chronic poor posture, which is often a result of stress and a particular risk to office workers working at desks all day, contributes to neuromusculoskeletal pain.
While it may seem minor, a forward head posture can add up to 30 pounds of pressure on the spine and reduce lung capacity by as much as 30%, which can lead to heart and blood vascular disease, according to Rene Cailliet, MD, former director of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Southern California. Realigning the spine, performing special exercises and creating an ergonomic workspace can reduce that pressure and prevent damage to other systems.
Today not enough Americans know about drug-free, effective approaches for relieving pain. Raising awareness of a problem only helps if combined with a viable solution. Truly solving the opioid epidemic means helping people suffering from acute and chronic pain access a natural, drug-free treatment so they can find a harmonious balance in pursuing the climate climax for mind and body.
Sherry McAllister, DC, is president of the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (F4CP). A not-for-profit organization with over 30,000 members, the F4CP informs and educates the general public about the value of chiropractic care delivered by doctors of chiropractic (DC) and its role in drug-free pain management. Learn more or find a DC at www.f4cp.org/findadoc.
The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.