Vagus nerve is one of the twelve cranial nerves. It is the longest and one of the most complicated one of all. Vagus is a Latin word that means, “wondering” and indeed it wonders from the brainstem to vocal cord, heart, lungs, stomach and intestines. Vagus nerve functions to stabilize heart rate, respiratory rate, and digestive function.
Vagus nerves afferent fiber projects to the limbic system of the brain, which controls your emotion and cognition. It is a nerve that connects the brain to the visceral organs for its bidirectional communication. Therefore, when you have digestive problems you will not feel well emotionally, and if you have negative emotions your digestion will also have a negative impact. The “buttery in the stomach” is a great example showing the gut-brain connection.
The vagus nerve has a critical role in maintaining homeostasis of the physical and psychological wellbeing.
The vagus nerve also influences your autonomic nervous system (ANS). Vagus nerve is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Therefore, facilitation of the nerve help relax your body, improves your digestion, and decreases your heart rate and blood pressure.
On the other hand, when the PNS is not functioning efficiently, then your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) will be more dominant, which causes your body to be tense and unable to relax. In this state, your metabolism, circulation, and immune system will decrease; your heart rate and blood pressure will increase; and your body will be in an inflammatory state.
ANS dysfunction can be caused by chronic stress, malalignment of the skeletal system, chronic pain, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition. These are many of the problems that people in this modern society face. If ANS dysfunction persists, the body cannot facilitate the relaxing PNS and a vicious cycle continues.
The vagus nerve has a critical role in maintaining the physical and psychological homeostasis so the dysfunction of the nerve has major implications to your health.
In general, the ways to facilitate the vagus nerve are through yoga, meditation, and breathing exercise. There’s also a treatment approach called neural manipulation. This approach facilitates the vagus nerve by direct palpation of the nerve along its path and also by way of visceral manipulation to the organs that the vagus nerve supplies.
There are therapists who are trained in this manual therapy technique at FuncPhysio. Please contact FuncPhysio if you have a question or if you are interested.