Have you searched for information about stress relief and chiropractic? Or, how chiropractic can help with stress by influencing the Vagus Nerve? Or, are you curious about the role of the Vagus Nerve is health and well-being and how to support its healthy function?
Let’s dive into the Vagus Nerve, its role in health, and where corrective balancing chiropractic fits in.
Even cursory research about the Vagus Nerve will reveal information about its role in the gut-brain connection, helping to deal with stress, anxiety, and fear as well as controlling the function of internal organs.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The Vagus Nerve is also called the 10th cranial nerve because it exits the skull. It travels through the body from the brainstem at the base of the skull all the way to the large intestines. It is often referred to as “the wanderer”. It is the core of the parasympathetic nervous system, frequently called the “rest and digest” system.
The Vagus nerve is the largest nerve in the body and is felt to be integral to the mind-body connection. It is related to our thinking, feeling, and overall level of health and well-being.
The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, responsible for controlling most of the functions of the body that do not require conscious effort.
Vagus Nerve and Chiropractic
There are two branches of the Vagus Nerve on either side of the neck that are called the Vagal Nerves. They meet around the heart and go on to innervate organs such as the heart, lungs, stomach, small intestines, part of the large intestines, and liver.
In the upper cervical spine at the very top of the neck, the Vagus Nerve passes right in front of the first cervical vertebra. Misalignment of the C1 vertebra is associated with tension, irritation, and interference to the function of the Vagus Nerve.
The health and function of the Vagus Nerve is correlated with one’s overall level of health and well-being. When the Vagus nerve is functioning well there is a greater chance of good health as evidenced by:
- Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
- Healthy digestion
- Lowered inflammation
- Deep restorative sleep
- Healthy immune response
- Rest and recovery and healing
Medicine will often resort to stimulating the vagus nerve electrically to help with neurological disorders, migraines, seizures and other brain disorders. Sometimes Vagus Nerve stimulators are beneficial but wouldn’t it make sense to remove the source of interference first before resorting to electrical stimulation?
Chiropractic adjustments that correct sources of interference and bring the body back into balance are known to affect the autonomic nervous system in a couple of ways:
- Removing interference to the Vagus Nerve to allow it to function better
- Down regulating the Sympathetic Nervous System by removing irritation to the Sympathetic System
Stress, Illness and the Vagus Nerve
Medical Research estimates that as much as 90% of all illness and disease is stress-related. The link between stress and illness is the autonomic nervous system. And, that is directly related to increased activity of the Sympathetic System causing a lowering of the activity of Vagus Nerve.
Studies are showing that an imbalance of the Vagus Nerve is a source of many illnesses from leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, as well as chronic pain and inflammation.
How Does Stress Impact the Vagus Nerve?
The Vagus Nerve and the Sympathetic System are largely inversely related, meaning that a rise in the activity of the Sympathetic Nervous System results in a corresponding lowering of activity of the Vagus Nerve. So, what activates the Sympathetic System?
In a word, life does!
Our modern world is full of events, situations, and stimuli that our nervous system interprets as a potential threat. When this happens the Sympathetic System is activated.
That wouldn’t be a problem if it happened occasionally, but in our world it happens many times a day. This actually feels good! It’s energizing and allows us to focus. But over time we eventually start to live in a state of Sympathetic Dominance.
Not only does this exhaust the Sympathetic System and us but it also suppresses the Vagus Nerve. The exhaustion of the Sympathetic System is often referred to as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. But, it’s not really an adrenal problem as much as it is a stress and nervous system problem.
When the Vagus Nerve is suppressed for long periods it has a difficult time coming back up in activity.
3 Keys to Wandering Back to Health with the Vagus Nerve
IF 90% of all illness and disease is stress-related!
IF the impact of stress is a suppression of the Vagus Nerve!
Might it not make sense to remove any sources of irritation and interference to the Autonomic Nervous System and bring the Vagus activity up?
Key #1: Vagus Nerve Exercise – It’s not really exercise but more of regular activation of the Vagus Nerve. The longer you have been in Sympathetic Dominance the more you need to nurture your Vagus Nerve back to health. In the Polyvagal Theory model there are 3 broad categories of how to stimulate and activate the Vagus Nerve:
1. Environmental: your home, getting out in nature
Nature has repeating patterns called fractals that have been shown to have a profound calming effect on the nervous system.
2. Relational: refers to your relationship with yourself and others. You know there are people in your life that when you talk to them or are with them have a calming effect on you and make you feel everything is good.
3. Embodied: movement, dance, yoga, walking, breathwork
In my practice I rely heavily on breathwork as it is powerful and can be done easily almost anywhere.
Key #2: Upper Cervical Alignment & Balance – As discussed earlier the upper cervical spine is a key source of tension and interference to the Vagus Nerve. Restoring alignment and movement in the upper neck is critical to improving Vagus Nerve function.
Key #3: Thoracic and Lumbar Spine Function: The thoracic and upper lumbar spine are common sources of irritation to the Sympathetic Nervous System. It is important to reduce Sympathetic irritation in order to raise Vagus Nerve activity.
We live in what I often refer to as a “soup of stress”. It’s unavoidable, so trying to manage stress is not the solution. The key is in supporting your nervous system in being better able to respond to stress and not get stuck in a state of Sympathetic over activity.
The first step is to remove any sources of irritation to the nervous system, specifically the autonomic system. And, then to activate the Vagus Nerve repeatedly over time.
Bill Berkowitz, DC
Bringing more than 3 decades of practice experience, Dr. Bill Berkowitz focuses on balancing and corrective care, applying his expertise to provide patients with predictable, repeatable and measurable results.
Dr. Bill consistently strives to enhance the well-being of his patients by addressing the root imbalances of their problems and promoting optimal balance, alignment, and function of the spine and nervous system. His commitment to delivering corrective chiropractic care has earned him a reputation for excellence among both colleagues and patients alike.
Bill’s wealth of knowledge and experience has allowed him to develop a nuanced understanding of the human body and its intricate connections. With each adjustment, he supports the body in returning to a state of balance that goes beyond mere symptom relief, focusing instead on long-term correction for his patients’ well-being.
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