The vagus nerve is one of the most complex nerves in the human body controlling and regulating important functions such as breathing, respiration, digestion, heart rate, hormone control, and much more. The vagus nerve also has a tremendous impact on the immunization system, gut and mental health and since the brain uses it to send information to the body’s organs, the vagus nerve is the link between our mental and physical health also referred to as the “mind/body connection.”
However when the vagus nerve is being compressed or is out of alignment, you will experience a range of unwelcomed symptoms that can harm your daily life and disturb your overall health. As a Chiropractor and Craniosacral Therapist, I can assess your nervous system for anything interfering with the proper functioning of your vagus nerve and if so, correct the issue allowing it to heal and return to it’s full and best health.
Craniosacral therapy directly treats the cranial nerves (the vagus nerve being cranial nerve #10) and can shift the nervous system out of the fight or flight sympathetic nerve dominant state. Over a few therapeutic sessions this can help in ‘rewiring’ the nervous system by increasing vagal tone (more on that below) and promoting sympathetic–parasympathetic homeostasis or body system equilibrium.
First, however, it’s important to understand the inner workings of the vagus nerve.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is both the longest cranial nerve and most multi-tasking. The Latin word vagus means ‘wandering’ and the vagus nerve is named so because it originates in the brain stem, then winds through the body connecting the brain with the inner organs branching to nearly every gland and organ in the thorax and abdomen (the area between your neck and waistline).
80% of the vagus nerve’s neurons (information messenger cells) are sensory, and they report the status of your organs back to your brain. In fact the vagus nerve’s most important function is bringing information from the liver, gut, heart, lungs, etc, back to the brain.
However the vagus nerve is classified as a parasympathetic nerve and one of its job’s is to relax or reduce your body’s stress and activities (cause the heart rate and other body responses to slow down) and support digestion (increase saliva release). Contrarily, your sympathetic nervous system has the fight or flight response role and carries signals that put your body’s systems on high alert – and thus “therein lies the rub” (something that causes a difficulty).
Internal stability and balance of your body’s systems such as hormone secretion, circulation, respiration, digestion etc, needed to support life and these 2 contrasting activities (Sympathetic – Parasympathetic) need to be in balance to maintain the body’s homeostasis (balance, equilibrium). It’s a shared ‘balancing act’ where interferences like stress, spinal subluxation, negative experience, trauma, accident, etc., can ‘tip the scales’ throwing things off-kilter and have a broad and far reaching effect on both your mental and physical health.
That’s because the sympathetic nervous system is associated with our fight-or-flight response and when activated through trauma or imminent danger – acts defensively and elevates all governed body systems (heart rate, blood flow, etc) to be on high alert and ‘at the ready’ to respond to danger.
As long as these ‘high alert’ disruptive moments are brief, your vagus nerve healthy, and you’re living a healthy lifestyle, your parasympathetic nervous system deescalates things and signals the body to rest, digest, and repair – counterbalancing the fight or flight system and signaling for a relaxation response in our body.
Thus if your parasympathetic nervous system is able to function properly, your body will ‘calm’ and return to a healthy state of homeostasis (balance).
Since the two branches of the Autonomic Nervous System, the parasympathetic & sympathetic, are like scales seeking balance, they cannot both be activated at the same time. Your body can only trigger one to act at a time, it’s alert or relax.
Should this intricate and delicate balance be interrupted by physical trauma or emotional stress for an extended period of time, the body’s nervous system can become chronically sympathetic dominant and shift toward the most primitive form of defense—immobilization—and get stuck there shutting down keeping you living around the clock in a state of high alert.
This can result in high blood pressure, elevated levels of stress hormones, anxiety, insomnia, and a host of physiological and psychological problems. Humans have not evolved to use this primitive form of defense on a regular or sustaining basis—and we are not good at shifting from immobilization defensive high alert back to balanced homeostasis.
When the primitive vagus nerve pathways are activated, heavily tilted toward the sympathetic nervous system for prolonged periods of time and entrenched in place, it’s very hard for the body’s nervous system to move back into a state of feeling safe and balanced homeostasis – without professional therapeutic intervention. The good news is that using what is known about the vagus nerve and the central nervous system I can help your body get unstuck from a “high anxiety filled” stressful sympathetic dominant state, and return you to a healthy balanced homeostasis.
In summary, the vagus nerve seeks balance which can mean anything from controlling the resting heart rate to swallowing and digesting food, and has the following basic functions:
Producing anti-stress hormones
Keeping the lungs breathing
Supporting immune and stem cell function
Basically, the brain and the vagus nerve communicate with each other to enable the body to shift to a “rest and digest” state. Your brain informs your body, through the vagus nerve, that your surrounding environment is safe. That assurance stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which in signals the “rest and digest” functions in organs such as the heart, lungs, throat, esophagus, and stomach.
Symptoms of Vagus Nerve Dysfunction
There are many signs and symptoms of a Vagal Tone dysfunction and include:
Unexplained weight loss, no appetite, feeling full quickly
Nausea and vomiting.
Strange Neurological symptoms
Research Determining Chiropractic Adjustments Resolve Vagus Nerve Dysfunction Symptoms
As is supported with this research the best way to resolve vagus dysfunction symptoms is to get treated by a chiropractor who specializes in neurological-based chiropractic care. Fortunately this is exactly what I offer in providing both chiropractic care and craniosacral therapy, which is neurological in focus.
Research has determined upper cervical (neck) chiropractic adjustments focusing on the vagus nerve located on the spine, at the level of the neck directly adjacent to the atlas C1 vertebra effectively stimulates the vagus nerve to sufficiently to turn off an over stimulated sympathetic nervous system and return an under-stimulated parasympathetic calming activity.
The research concluded that targeted chiropractic adjustments realigned the atlas vertebra and essentially removed “pressure” from the vagus nerve, restoring proper function. The research also documented an immediate reduction in inflammation, lowered blood pressure, and later showed signs of reduced anxiety, stress, and depression upon the participants of the study.
The healthier your vagus nerve response, the more likely and faster you are to recover after feeling stress. The key to calming yourself down quickly and not incur the negative health repercussions of enduring stress, improving the health of your vagus nerve is an excellent place to start. This is why and how the vagus nerve is also referred to as your body’s internal brake pedal able to subdue levels anxiety, depression and stress among other things.
Research in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews determined “improved functioning of the vagal tone can result in promoting emotional resilience.” More researchhas indicated reinvigorating the health of the vagus nerve should be a first-line treatment for both cluster and migraine headaches.
Vagus Nerve Assessment and Treatment in New York City
Medical researchhas linked many chronic diseases to altered vagus nerve function, assessed and detected through vagal tone or heart rate variability readings.
One of the primary tests used to assess the functioning and efficiency of the vagus nerve is measuring the vagal tone, which. Vagal tone is akin to ‘balance’ and refers to the activity level of our vagus nerve and we all have a specific Vagal tone. The strength of our vagal tone is measured by how fast our body can relax after stress. The stronger your vagus activity, the quicker your body returns to a relaxed state after a stressful moment.
Vagal tone is determined by measuring your heart-rate alongside your breathing rate. Your heart-rate accelerates a little when you inhale, and slows down somewhat when you exhale. The greater the difference between your inhalation heart-rate and your exhalation heart-rate, the greater your vagal tone. A high-level vagal tone indicates your body can return to a relaxed state faster after a stressful event.
A high vagal tone enables your body to regulate blood glucose levels more accurately and lowers the likelihood of things like stroke, diabetes, or other types of cardiovascular diseases. A higher vagal tone indicates your ability to lower your blood pressure, reduce headaches, and improve digestion via better production of stomach enzymes. A higher vagal tone is also associated with feeling less anxiety and a better mood and feeling less anxiety.
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of a higher vagal tone is being able to quickly relax after a stressful event. That applies to both physical stress from a workout at the gym, mental stress from work, or emotional stress from loved ones. We all face stressors on a daily basis and learning to navigate and respond appropriately is essential for maintaining physical and mental well-being.
As a Chiropractor and Craniosacral Therapist, the importance of vagus nerve in not only maintaining health but allowing the body to cope with stress. In serving patients I’ve found that many times they have a spinal misalignment or subluxation in the upper cervical (neck) area, and head region which is very treatable with gentle chiropractic adjustments and craniosacral therapy. Craniosacral therapy directly treats the vagus nerve being cranial nerve #10, and can help ‘rewire’ the nervous system by increasing vagal tone and promoting sympathetic–parasympathetic homeostasis or body system equilibrium. If you’re noticing any of the signs or symptoms of vagus nerve issues or simply interested in having the health of your vagus nerve assessed and treated, don’t hesitate to call me at (212) 328-1180.
Having a Chiropractic background since the year 2000, Dr. Kaminsky offers many methods of treatment with an emphasis on Craniosacral Therapy in NYC.
Craniosacral Therapy (CST) is a method focusing on the link between the cranium (head) and sacrum (the second to last bone at the base of your spine), scientifically proven to work in unison to pump fluid throughout the body, an unknown disruption of which can cause many health issues. The craniosacral mechanism pumps vital fluid called cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) through the body and in a sense energetically lubricates the joints, tissues, organs, basically all cells of the body. It is the driving force of all your body’s systems of function, including maintaining the tone of your muscles.
The Central Nervous System (brain and spinal cord) are surrounded with CSF generating energetic rhythmic impulses of fluid delicately pumping throughout your body’s parts “breathing” the movement of life. This measurable rhythm of moving fluid, like the heart rhythm, pulse rhythm, breathing rhythm is the foundational “blueprint” and primary principle of our real-time state of our health.
Compromises of our rhythmic movements of fluid flow correlates to the impulse restrictions in the system which the body is unable to overcome or self-correct. This is the reason why we have “dis-ease”, symptoms, conditions, basically all ailments. This is where the skill of an experienced craniosacral therapist becomes valuable. By placing his or her hands on your body the practitioner can feel, detect, evaluate, and facilitate correction of these restrictive arrhythmic impulses.
The craniosacral therapist helps your rhythm restore and renew in compromised areas allowing for healing to take place of sensory, motor, musculoskeletal, neurological disorders, symptoms, conditions and pain. To learn more, visit the other pages on this website. Call to schedule your healing treatment with Dr. Kaminsky.