Osteopathic treatment to help relieve physical effects of anxiety

Anxiety disorders are now a common diagnosis globally. Current statistics show there are 3 million people in the UK alone suffering from some form of anxiety.

Anxiety can be defined as feelings of anxiousness, fear, dread and worry, that never switch off. Prolonged periods of anxiety can cause the sympathetic nervous system to become overactive. This in turn releases the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream. These hormones trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response and can manifest as physical symptoms within the body. This can quickly have negative impacts on your health.

If we have an exam or an interview, anxiety can give us the drive we need to revise effectively and can even prove helpful in the short term. But persistently high levels of worry can trigger a chronic stress response within the body. This affects us both mentally and physically.

Below we outline the most common physical symptoms of anxiety and how Osteopathy can help to reduce these symptoms in the body.

Chest tightness/pain

Anxiety attacks increase heart and breathing rates. This typically causes upper respiratory (chest) breathing which can cause chest pain and tightness. Your osteopath will work to relax and stretch the tense muscles in your upper body, including around your chest and diaphragm. They can also give you deep breathing exercises to practice at home.


Muscles become tense with high levels of stress hormones in the body. The most commonly affected muscles are at the back of the skull (suboccipital), neck (scalene) and upper shoulders (trapezius). This tension limits blood flow to the muscles. This causes ‘knotting’ as the muscles become fibrous and feel stiff, affecting mobility and causing pain. Headaches can result from this tension, causing pain at the back of the head and a tightness at the temples, or pain from one side of the neck to the back of the eye. Osteopathy can help to improve blood flow to the muscles using deep tissue massage to reduce knots. Manipulation techniques can also be used to re-align the spine and improve mobility.


Anxiety can feel heightened in the evening, especially if you are unable to switch off before bed. This is a common knock on affect from an increase in stress hormones. The sympathetic nervous system regulates the release of these hormones and is located either side of the middle back (thoracic spine). Your Osteopath will look for any dysfunctions in this area, which may present as restricted joints or spasmed muscle. They can then work to rebalance any problems they find to promote a sense of ease and relaxation.

Techniques to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system can also be given by your Osteopath. These are used to encourage a slower heart and breathing rate, lower blood pressure and promote feelings of relaxation**. Mindful lifestyle changes can be a great place to start, small steps can create positive changes in the longterm.

Natural remedies that can help to reduce anxiety include:

Try to reduce or avoid alcohol, smoking, caffeine and fatty foods as much as possible.

Anxiety can be treatable, it’s just a matter of exploring the best approach for you.

To book your appointment at East Sussex Osteopaths, click here.

** Stay tuned for our next blog on how to activate the parasynthetic nervous system – your ‘rest and digest’ system, to help you through these stressful times. Coming next month.

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