Many people look at the narrow definition of physiotherapy, and neglect to realize that its application can have a greater positive impact on people beyond physical mobility and function. If you’ve been reading our blog, then you know that the concept of physiotherapy as a means to combat stress first reared its head in an article about couples therapy, and was then addressed more recently in a piece about how the practice has many great benefits for teens, stress reduction included.
Yes indeed, for years physiotherapy has been overlooked as an effective means to mitigate anxiety, but today, experts are finally coming around to find that it can be used to complement cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of stress management. Let’s take a look at how.
Why You May Consider Physiotherapy to Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety in Your Life
The Indirect Benefits of Being Pain Free
You can already draw a straight line between the existence of physical pain, and stress. If you are living with chronic pain, it causes you direct stress. Therefore, by removing chronic pain through physiotherapy, you can reduce the direct stress. But there’s more to it.
Chronic pain impacts all aspects of your life. It can prevent you from working, which reduces your ability to earn a living and impacts your finances – one of the leading causes of anxiety. Chronic pain also impacts your overall quality of life. As a parent, you may not be able to play with your children or you may not be able to participate in the same activities with your spouse, which can weigh heavy on the emotional health of the household. In addition, you may not be able to travel comfortably, or even join friends at the movies or for drinks without feeling significant discomfort. But when you use physiotherapy to remove chronic pain from the equation, you unlock your potential as a contributing member of society, and improve your overall quality of life, both of which can have a very positive impact on your stress and anxiety levels, even if indirectly so.
Studies on Physiotherapy and Anxiety
While the indirect impact on stress is enough reason alone to consider physical therapy, there is some real data behind the concept. Critics may like to cite that there is no direct association between physiotherapy and a reduction in anxiety, but there are numerous studies that show the disciplines within the realm of physio (i.e. massage therapy) can chip away at the symptoms.
For instance, The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry quotes a randomized, single-masked, clinical trial that was conducted on untreated subjects with a DSM-IV diagnosis of General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). The randomized subjects received weekly massage for 6 weeks, with the primary outcome evidencing a significant reduction in Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS).
Another study, referenced in our article on physiotherapy for adolescents, showed that an increase in bodily awareness of sensations, to sense and make sense of anxiety when receiving treatment, can be effective in itself when attempting to manage symptoms of anxiety.
Critics also like to quote the fact that since clinical anxiety is rooted within the neurotransmitters of the brain, that physiotherapy can have no direct impact. However, PsychCentral references important research presented at the annual conference of the Anxiety Disorder Association of America. The study delivered an eye opening answer to the question about physical therapy and anxiety:
“Exercise appears to affect, like an antidepressant, particular neurotransmitter systems in the brain, and it helps patients with depression re-establish positive behaviors. For patients with anxiety disorders, exercise reduces their fears of fear and related bodily sensations such as a racing heart and rapid breathing.” (Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders, Oxford University Press, September 2009)
As alternative (to medication) forms of therapy for anxiety and stress are researched, more is uncovered regarding the positive impact of exercise, fitness, and physiotherapy in its management.
The Flip Side – Anxiety Can Compound Physical Ailments That Call for Physio
Studies have shown that anxiety can also affect the systemic systems throughout the body. These can include the following, some of which may be, in part, addressed through physiotherapy:
- Cardiopulmonary System: Including (but not exclusive to) increased blood pressure, chest pain, tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rate), and shortness of breath.
- Musculoskeletal System: Including (but not exclusive to) muscle tension, myalgia (pain in a muscle group), arthralgia (pain in joints), and lower back pain.
- Gastrointestinal System: Including (but not exclusive to) diarrhea, nausea, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Neurologic System: Including (but not exclusive to) dizziness and difficulty with concentration.
- General/ multiple system involvement: Including (but not exclusive to) general fatigue, sleep disturbances, profuse sweating, and frequent headaches.
As it turns out, the existence of anxiety can send you to a physiotherapist for pure systemic reasons alone. That being said, it is important to distinguish the source of a symptom such as muscle tension. If it is caused by anxiety alone, physiotherapy treatment in itself is not the solution. However, muscle tension, pain, and other impediments to proper body function and movement may be the shared result of anxiety and an underlying physical condition. You’ll want to do all you can to ease the potential for a compound effect. Whether it’s a chicken or egg argument or not, you can certainly find yet another reason to make physiotherapy a part of your overall health and wellness plan, stress and anxiety management included.
If you would like to learn more about what physiotherapy can do for you, and you reside in the Greater Vancouver area, we encourage you to contact Absolute PhysioCare today. Why live another day with anxiety when there is help available to you, in many forms?