There is a connection between the rise of conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression and between our society’s growing reliance on pain medication. Even the opioid epidemic, a crisis of addiction to pain-relieving opioid medications, can be explained by this rise of stress and depression. Why is this the case? Mental conditions like anxiety, depression, stress, and others will give you physical symptoms! People can have chronic pain, which is physically manifested throughout the body, not just “in the head”. Someone who is stressed will not just be mentally overworked, but physically overworked and may have aches and pains as well.
The entire body can be affected by mental stresses. We’ve mentioned aches and pains, but when the mind and body are overworked and stressed out, the different internal systems are, too. The nervous system runs throughout the body and is especially important to take care of and treat when it comes to stress and pain management. If the nervous system becomes overworked due to mental stresses, it will cease to function properly. The body is essentially in a state of dis-ease. This can come with all kinds of additional negative symptoms. If they haven’t already occurred due to mental stress, they may happen due to a malfunctioning nervous system. These include symptoms such as inflammation, pain, sleep disorders, constipation, diarrhea, and further depression, anxiety, and mental stress. Specific upper cervical chiropractic care can help alleviate these physical symptoms!
Specific Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care and the Nervous System
Upper Cervical Chiropractic care can bring the nervous system back to a healthy level of function, can help alleviate many of these physical manifestations of stress, and it may even alleviate some of the mental symptoms as well. These symptoms are cyclical; if the mental stresses are reduced, the physical signs of stress can be as well. Similarly, if the physical signs of stress are reduced or eradicated, mental stress can be alleviated. This is why people who are anxious, stressed, and depressed seek out pain relief! Specific upper cervical chiropractic care helps treat the cause of the nervous system’s manifestations of stress to help alleviate any physical or mental symptoms caused by a poorly working nervous system.
Let’s look at the nervous system. The nervous system, per the name, is made up of nerves that run throughout the body. The central nervous system (CNS) is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, while the peripheral nervous system is made up of sensory neurons and nerves which run throughout the body and connect to the CNS. The nervous system can be further categorized into the parts that control certain parts of the body and their reactions to sensation. The entire nervous system is affected during upper cervical chiropractic treatments since all parts of the nervous system will connect back to the CNS. If chiropractic adjustments can improve any negative symptoms which are affecting the spine, they should also help with nervous system malfunction.
This study thoroughly examines the different parts of the nervous system and how they react when the body undergoes physical and mental stress and pain. The study shows that parts of the peripheral nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems, need to be balanced correctly for the body to properly interpret nervous signals to major parts of the body. Normally these two systems work together to control functions of organs over which we have no direct control, such as the stomach, bladder, intestines, and even the heart and lungs. However, according to the study, when the body undergoes stress, the sympathetic nervous system is overworked and overstimulated and the parasympathetic nervous system is ignored and under-stimulated. This can lead to all sorts of problems within the body, especially localized inflammation. Pain and inflammation are very much related to depression, stress, insomnia, and anxiety.
These inflammatory problems crop up in many different parts of the body when the nervous system reacts to stress. This should explain why someone can have digestive issues or bowel issues that come along with stress and anxiety! The authors of the study concluded that treatments involving support of the vagus nerve will help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system so that the nervous system is properly balanced, and inflammation is reduced and prevented. Specific upper cervical chiropractic adjustments can have a profound effect on the vagus nerve and can heal these stressful symptoms seen throughout the body. Let’s look more specifically at the vagus nerve and see why it is so important to the healthy condition of the nervous system.
How Does Specific Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care Affect the Vagus Nerve?
When it comes to stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and rebalancing the entire nervous system, the vagus nerve plays a vital role. The vagus nerve is located on the spine, at the level of the neck directly adjacent to the atlas vertebra. If the atlas vertebra is out of alignment, the vagus nerve can function abnormally, since it is adjacent to the atlas vertebra. Chiropractic treatment to the upper cervical spine and neck area can help realign the atlas vertebra and essentially take the “pressure” of the vagus nerve, restoring proper function.
The vagus nerve, also known as the tenth cranial nerve, is the longest branch of the cranial nerves in the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve helps the body regulate the function of almost all of the internal organs. This means that it affects, either directly or indirectly, healthy bodily functions like digestion, heart rate, breathing, sleep and mood regulation, and more. The vagus nerve can even prevent inflammation and initiate the body’s relaxation response. An upper cervical chiropractic adjustment aligns the atlas vertebra gently and specifically which helps the body relax, and reduce pain and inflammation and may also help ease anxiety and stress, as they are no longer overworking the body with harmful physical symptoms.
There are still more studies that need to be done, but this study also suggests positive results for lowering blood pressure through upper cervical chiropractic adjustments. It is understandable to see the correlation between chiropractic adjustments to the atlas vertebra and vagus nerve and lowered blood pressure. Chiropractic care to that area of the spine positively impacts the vagus nerve and helps it (and the rest of the nervous system) regulate cardiac function and reduce inflammation. Therefore, this study’s results further promote the idea that an upper cervical chiropractic adjustment to the area adjacent to the vagus nerve can help reduce symptoms of stress.
How will an upper cervical chiropractic adjustment help with symptoms of stress?
One of the most important things that an upper cervical chiropractic adjustment can do to help with stress and anxiety is bestowing pain relief. If you look at the symptoms of stress mentioned earlier, as well as the chain reactions that they cause internally, pain and inflammation are a leading cause of the malfunctions of the different parts of the body. It makes sense that someone who is in pain is stressed, anxious, and depressed, and vice versa!
Mental stress can affect the body with pain and inflammation that will manifest in specific bodily systems. That means it can come with digestive issues, abnormal bowel movements, sleep and mood disorders, depression, anxiety, and more. Here is a quick reminder about what a visit to a local upper cervical chiropractor can do to alleviate harmful symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
A chiropractic adjustment to the upper cervical spine can help symptoms of stress through:
· Ensuring the atlas vertebra are properly aligned and not pressing on the vagus nerve
· Stimulating the vagus nerve to reduce and prevent inflammation
· Regulating the vagus nerve and ensuring the organs throughout the body have healthy function
· Relieving pain by activating the body’s innate relaxation response
· Ensuring the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems are balanced correctly
All of these beneficial effects of spinal adjustment can reduce pain and inflammation throughout the entire body, perhaps even mental effects of being in pain, like further anxiety and depression.
If you are overworked and experiencing physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, see an upper cervical chiropractor! Check out a local wellness center or upper cervical chiropractic office nearby to make sure the nervous system is properly balanced!
References (in the order cited in the text):
1. Sullivan, Mark D. “Depression Effects on Long-Term Prescription Opioid Use, Abuse, and Addiction.” The Clinical Journal of Pain, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29505419.[HS1]
2. Won, Eunsoo and Yong-Ku Kim. “Stress, the Autonomic Nervous System, and the Immune-Kynurenine Pathway in the Etiology of Depression.” Current Neuropharmacology, Bentham Science Publishers, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5050399/.
3. ATLANTOtec. “Disorders of the Vagus Nerve.” ATLANTOtec, 2019, https://www.atlantotec.com/en/disorders/vagus-nerve-disorders.
4. Rosenfeld, Jordan. “9 Fascinating Facts About the Vagus Nerve.” Mental Floss, 13 Nov. 2018, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/65710/9-nervy-facts-about-vagus-nerve.
5. Win, Ni Ni, et al. “Effects of Upper and Lower Cervical Spinal Manipulative Therapy on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Variability in Volunteers and Patients With Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled, Cross-Over, Preliminary Study.” Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, Elsevier, Mar. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4371115/.
HealthWorks: A Family Wellness Center is a chiropractic and wellness center located in Plano, Texas. Our chiropractors, Dr. Christy Flick and Dr. Jennifer Taylor, have been helping patients function better since starting private practice in 2005. For information about this article or other chiropractic questions, please contact our office at 972-612-1800.