A Happy, Healthy Vagus Nerve

WHAT IS THE VAGUS NERVE?

The word ‘Vagus’ means ‘to wander’. So it’s a fitting name for the Vagus Nerve, which wends its way from the brainstem to the abdomen and passes through many of the body’s vital organs on its way. 

The longest nerve in the body, the Vagus Nerve is an integral component of the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which helps the body re-regulate following periods of heightened stress and anxiety. It carries anti-inflammatory signals between the brain and vital organs like the heart, gut, lungs, liver and spleen, and is a key player in the body’s in-built ‘rest and digest’ response system. 

So it’s pretty important that the lines of communication are kept open at all times.

But what happens when the Vagus Nerve’s ability to function is impaired or restricted in some way? 

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY VAGUS NERVE IS IMPAIRED?

Because the Vagus Nerve passes through so many of the vital organs, the symptoms of vagal nerve impairment are wide-ranging and varied. If you suffer from any of the following, it could indicate that your Vagus Nerve is not functioning optimally:

  • Regular heartburn
  • Digestive issues
  • Acid reflux
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Weight gain
  • Migraines

HOW CAN I HELP PROMOTE OPTIMAL FUNCTION AT HOME?

There are loads of things you can do at home to help the Vagus Nerve function optimally. Because it is central to the body’s stress-response system, lowering or limiting stress is one of the most important things you can do to keep the Vagus Nerve working at its best. Anything that helps you relax is going to have benefits in this respect. You could try:

  • Regular exercise, while maintaining a strong breathing pattern through your nose
  • Undertaking relaxation activities, such as meditation or yoga, while breathing deeply through your nose
  • Getting monthly or fortnightly massages to promote relaxation and fluid movement
  • Eating your meals in a relaxed environment

WHAT ELSE CAN I DO?

There are small things you can do daily to keep the Vagus Nerve functioning well:

  • Activate your gag reflex using your toothbrush
  • Gargle with salt water after brushing your teeth
  • Practice humming, deep in your throat
  • Breathe through your nose, especially at night
  • Laugh lots, and often

 

HOW COULD OSTEOPATHY HELP?

Here at the Good Health Centre, there are lots of things we can do that might help you find homeostasis in your body – and this is going to be key to promoting optimal vagal nerve function. We understand there’s a perfect balance to be found between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and our practitioners may be able to help you find that important equilibrium. If your body is in sympathetic overdrive, we will try and help you re-engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which could help the healing begin. If your parasympathetic nervous system is working too hard, we may be able to help you regulate it. 

Potential benefits include:

  • Helps manage blood pressure
  • Helps with heartburn
  • Helps limit digestive problems
  • Helps maintain body temperature
  • Helps decrease heart rate
  • Helps suppress inflammation
  • Helps boost your immune system

 

BOOK AN APPOINTMENT

We have a variety of tools to measure heart rate variability (HRV) which does give an indication to vagal tone. We use visualisation, breathing and biofeedback to improve vagal tone. This particular useful with patients with chronic pain and PTSD. Every patient requires a bespoke approach to improve resilience via accessing the autonomic nervous system.  Reducing sympathetic arousal and hyper vigilance and at the same time increasing the parasympathetic nervous system.

Ready to start your journey towards a happier Vagus Nerve? Book an appointment at the Good Health Centre today.

Myofascial Release and the Treatment of Pain

My recent post about the magical world of fascia, today I explain myofascial release, how it works and why it can be so successful in treating injuries, pain and core dysfunction.

What is myofascial release?

 Myofascial release is a very gentle, no-invasive technique that works directly on the fascia to release tension and adhesions. When fascia is functioning well, it slides and glides, facilitates movement and supports the structure, like the guy ropes of a tent.

If one area is pulled too tight, the structure may unable to support itself fully, with some areas weakening and others being rigid and stuck. Over-use, under-use, injury, inflammation and scar tissue can all cause fascia to solidify, thicken and shorten, becoming restricted, less mobile and tight. As the body compensates, tissues and muscles adapt by over-working, weakening or tensing. One example of this is in a condition such as diastasis-recti. If there is significant tension along the outer abs, the inner abs and connective tissue may struggle to return back together. For pelvic floor injuries such as prolapse, releasing tension or adhesions in the fascia of the pelvis can often help the organs return to their optimal alignment. 

 As fascia is continuous, adhesions in one area can transfer to other places along the ‘thread’ and cause a distortion in the shape of the tissue (postural patterns) and restriction around the nerves (pain) in much the same way that a snagged jumper can change shape, or show a pull elsewhere in the fabric. Releasing any part of the chain can have a profound effect on the entire structure, allowing the fascia to unwind, regain its elasticity and release the pressure it may be placing on a nerve, organ or joint.

For Optimal Release:

In order to release and unwind, fascia requires the following conditions:

Warmth – ever noticed how bendy you feel after a warming yoga class?

A light touch – fascia tenses under force. The more rapid the force, the more it will thicken. 

Gentle, sustained pressure – no pummelling, blasting or elbowing: that will simply cause it to tense even more

Plenty of fluid – it needs to slide and glide, not drag and scrape

Correct application:

Unlike massage, which works by applying rhythmic and mobile pressure to the muscles to increase blood flow and soften the muscle fibres, myofascial release works by applying light pressure to the skin – fascia’s outermost surface –  and waiting for a sense of the tissues yielding or changing consistency. Once the fascia has ‘let you in’, applying gentle pressure and allowing the hands or fingers to follow the line of fascia will enable it to release, lengthen and regain its elasticity. 

There are many devices and techniques available that claim to release fascia. Using something like a foam roller may provide short-term relief from tightness in the muscles, as it increases blood flow and can mobilise some of the tissues. However, if the casing that runs in and around the muscle (i.e. the fascia) has not released, it’s like trying to squeeze into an item of clothing that’s too tight. Like cornflour solution, fascia yields under gentle and soft pressure, but will solidify to resist force. Pummelling tense shoulders, digging elbows into tight glutes or whizzing up and down on a foam roller to release tight hamstrings are more likely to cause more tension in the fascia, rather than release it.