Our Friend: The Vagus Nerve - Legacy Physical Therapy
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Our Friend: The Vagus Nerve

our friend vagus

The vagus nerve plays a huge role in our body. If you ever wondered why taking a deep breath, stretching or getting hugged by a friend can create that sense of calm or comfort, the answer is: our vagus nerve! 

  • The vagus nerve is one of the 12 cranial nerves. 
  • These nerves sprawl out from our brain into many areas of our body.
  • The Vagus Nerve is the longest, largest and most complex of our cranial nerves.

 Current research shows vagus nerve activity can impact things like migraines, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, epilepsy, arthritis, and many other common ailments. 

The vagus nerve is the main nerve “in charge” of the parasympathetic nervous system. This part of our nervous system controls the body’s ability to relax or have a relaxation response. Having increased vagal nerve activity counteracts the body’s stress response. A comprehensive review study in 2016 found heightened vagus nerve activity slows down heart rate and decreases inflammation. Research shows that many common medical conditions that are made worse by stress or inflammation, can be reduced by vagal nerve stimulation. 

There are actually several ways that the vagus nerve can be stimulated. For more involved diagnoses and treatment options, the Vagus Nerve can be treated with the use of electrical stimulation, either via an implanted or an external device. However there are several much more easy ways to activate the vagus nerve without a device or implant. 

Deep massage, yoga, taking slow deep breaths, meditation, having a strong hug or pressure across the body, or any other activity that you find relaxing have all been shown to increase vagal nerve activity in the body. On the flip side, stress and anxiety has been shown to be associated with depressed or decreased vagal nerve activity. 

Here are some ways you can start to increase vagal nerve activity: 

  1. Take 10 deep breaths, a couple of times a day. Big slow deep breaths 
  2. Try to use an App, like the “Calm” App to help you do guided meditation 
  3. Hold a prolonged stretch 
  4. Perform a deep pressure massage, a light massage is not going to be enough to stimulate the vagus nerve  

If you tried some of the these activities to increase your vagal tone but feel like you need more assistance with relieving your pelvic floor symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out to us to talk to a pelvic floor physical therapist.