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What's All The Fuss About The Vagus Nerve?

chiropractor adjusting patients shoulderWithin the practice, we have started to notice an increase in chatter around the Vagus nerve. This nerve is the longest in the body, and runs down from our brainstem to innervate and connect with the organs both above and below our diaphragm (breathing muscle).

The understanding of this nerve and its associated research is rapidly gaining traction across many health professions, as we begin to appreciate the vast and influential role the vagus nerve has on our daily wellbeing and long term health.

There are 2 particular arms to the vagus nerve that we discussed in our podcast episode with Dr Don MacDonald, one which regulates our stress response and one which fires it up. For a newborn baby, they do not yet have the regulator and rely on external support and care with regards to managing their stress response. This is one of the many reasons we love chiropractic care, along with supportive and calming techniques such as swaddling and deep pressure massage from those early newborn days.

As we move towards childhood and adulthood, a system which is constantly “mobilised” (as Don would say) under stress, lives ready to fight or flight. An easy way to understand this is the mouse running away from the cat! Our nerve system is triggered towards a stress response that quickens our heart rate, tenses our muscles and will leave us feeling acutely alert and driven by adrenaline. Short term, this is excellent in helping to remove ourselves from any threat or danger, yet also to perform in sport and activity.

Now, if we were to become ‘locked’ into this state in an ongoing manner, the stress response shifts towards a “play dead” scenario – otherwise known as dorsal collapse. Dorsal collapse occurs once the cat has caught the mouse, fighting is no longer an option and the mouse’s best chance of survival is to switch off and play dead. For a human, dorsal collapse has huge implications for our gut health, facial expression and even hearing! It may also present itself as difficulty with learning or concentrating, brain fog and memory challenges.

We have often been in this way for a very long time, or have experienced significant levels of stress and trauma in our lives before we see the outward signs of this state. Essentially, we are no longer able to respond in an expected, or beneficial way to the demands of daily life.

An excellent example of which Don gave us may be a child who is experiencing learning difficulties, and struggles to tune-in. Likewise, a person with low mood of affect, limited facial expression and a reduced zest for life is often stuck in dorsal collapse.

These nerve system states are measurable using the HRV scans we have in the practice, you can also learn about them in our upcoming podcast interview with Beckett Grace. During your care at Advanced Health Chiropractic, we measure the state of your nerve system regularly and are constantly adapting your frequency of care to match the demands of your lifestyle.

Adjustments Can Help

As chiropractors, we know the quickest and most effective way to bring our vagus nerve into a state of ease is through an adjustment. This state is instantaneous and measurable by the tests we do each visit including strength, balance and movement.

When we regularly repeat this action, and constantly stimulate the body to function in a more beneficial way (i.e. your care plan) is where the magic really happens. We notice posture starts to change, the body becomes more aware of itself and its position in space – feeding directly into our vagus nerve and allowing for a calming state to ensue.

We humans are intricately designed with both a stress and a healing response, as regulated by the nerve system. It is this same system which channels our ability to connect with others, collaborate and feel at ease within our own body. Therefore when we nourish the system, we amplify the parts of us that make us human and keep us balanced.

Follow our Polyvagal series and keep up with us this month on Instagram

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