The vagus nerve is sometimes described as the wandering nerve as it is the longest cranial nerve. It runs from the brainstem all the way down to part of the colon.
There are three main parts to this nerve; sensory, motor and autonomic. The sensory components of the vagus nerve are responsible for sensation of the skin behind the ear, the external part of the ear canal, and certain parts of the throat. It is also responsible for visceral sensation information for the larynx, oesophagus, lungs, trachea, heart, and most of the digestive system.
Motor function of the vagus nerve are responsible for stimulating muscles in the pharynx, larynx, and the soft palate, which is the fleshy area near the back of the roof of the mouth, stimulating muscles in the heart, where it helps to lower resting heart rate, stimulating involuntary contractions in the digestive tract, including the oesophagus, stomach, and most of the intestines, which allow food to move through the tract. (1)
The vagus nerve is also highly responsible for the function of many of the body's functions that we take for granted, such as digestion, blood pressure, inflammation response and heart rate.
The Vagus Nerve - potential signs of dysfunction
- Anxiety and depression
- Poor memory
- Digestive problems
- Chronic inflammation
- Blood pressure changes
- Vasovagal syncope
- Chronic fatigue
- ENT problems
- Decreased heart rate variability (HRV)
Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the difference in our heart rate, beat to beat, and is a good measure of how adaptable our body is to stress. Having a low HRV is associated with almost every chronic health condition (2). Recent research is now showing that people under chiropractic care are seeing improvements in HRV over time. This supports the hypothesis that the nervous system, and improvement of nervous system, function better through the correction of vertebral subluxations leading to improved health and resilience. Interestingly, the best changes to HRV have been seen in people under upper-cervical care.
As the diagram above shows the vegus nerve passing over the front of the atlas (C1). Any biomechanical changes to the function of this nerve causes problems with the structures that it innervates.
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(2) Textbook of Human Adaptability, Rob Sinnott