The nervous system is an amazing part of the human design. It is composed of the brain, central nervous system (think spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (all the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. I really like putting the picture of the nervous system next to the tree with roots because then you can see how the central system and the peripheral system work together to innervate the human body.
It’s absolutely amazing how it works, and it is far too complicated to explain in one blog.
But I’m going to give it an old fashioned attempt! The brain can send and receive signals from the peripheral nervous system. The brain can receive input – and then gives output based on either voluntary or involuntary functions.
An example of a voluntary function would be you reaching for your coffee mug. You consciously thought about reaching for that cup, and your brain and muscles worked together for it to happen.
An example of an involuntary action would be breathing. You do not need to think about each part of breathing – it just happens naturally. Your diaphragm is a muscle that involuntarily contracts/relaxes to help you breath. Muscles are not the only examples – but as a physical therapist it’s my natural “go-to” example. However it is important to remember that the brain has complex parts – it controls hormone production, digestion, reproduction, and balance.
So why is this important from the perspective of a pelvic floor therapist?
Well the pelvic floor musculature is a unique group and it functions both voluntarily and involuntarily. It can contract when we want it too (usually) and we can also relax it. However that being said, the body also has a tendency to involuntarily hold tension, especially with stress, trauma, and other emotions. This is an important concept as a physical therapist, because we need to recognize that our patients’ emotions and state of mind can affect the musculoskeletal problems that we treat.
There are a multitude of other examples, but these paint the best picture. The nervous system has a lot of responsibilities with controlling organs, muscles, hormone production, digestion, preproduction and all the things. So just realize that it a complex system, that can cause an array of symptoms that can show up in each human differently.
The nervous system is something that a physical therapist should screen during evaluations and treatments as needed. So keep this in mind as you go to your healthcare providers – and if you feel like this is an area of concern for you, please feel free to reach out with any questions you may have!