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The Vagus Nerve

If you read healthcare articles, you’ll have seen a few talking about the Vagus nerve (a.k.a The Depressor nerve). They normally talk about how you need to stimulate it to relax yourself. You may even have come across it mentioned on your social media feed.

This picture outlines the Vagus Nerve pathways, showing how it innervates the organs of digestion, breathing, circulation and excretion.

Its actions also help to promote a better regulated immune response as well as leading to relaxation, so affecting mood.

Path of the Vagus Nerve shown in Baks Osteopathy blog

Where Is The Vagus Nerve?

The Vagus nerve travels from its nucleus in the brain stem through the skull, the neck, the chest and into the abdomen. ‘Vagus’ literally means ‘wandering’ and has a branch on the left and right side of the body.

The Vagus nerve provides balance to a part of the nervous system known as the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). We all have an ANS and it has two parts, the Sympathetic (SNS) and Parasympathetic (PSNS) parts. The Vagus nerve is the main part of the PSNS.

The Vagus Nerve’s Purpose

The SNS and PSNS act as opposing forces, in an attempt to create balance in our body’s physiology. Their actions speed up and calm down (respectively) bodily functions that you don’t consciously control. In order for balance to occur, Vagal tone has to equal Sympathetic tone. Therefore PSNS will need to equal SNS tone.

In reality, your Autonomic nervous system is always in a state of flux and varies wildly depending upon your body’s needs.

baks osteopathy maidstone sciatic pain blog - The Vagus Nerve

These needs include varying your heart rate, blood circulation, oxygen exchange (our ability to breathe), digestion and excretion.

This means (for example) that our body can increase it’s heart rate by increasing SNS and decreasing PSNS in times of need. Examples of this might include having to run to catch a bus, or when you become excited about an adventure.

What Negatively Affects Vagus Nerve Function?

Physical and emotional stress

“Decreased Vagal tone” can be caused by physical and emotional stressors and is the most common cause seen by us in our surgery.

With both of these causes, the root of the problem lays with the amount of inflammation in the body, leading to destruction of and irritation of the body’s tissues. Inflammation can come from a variety of sources.

Physical stresses

Physical stresses can include all manner of micro and macro trauma.

Micro trauma includes simple strains such as postural fatigue, gardening or repetitive strain injuries you may get from work. It will also include degenerative changes to joints, such as Arthritis, which is a problem for millions worldwide.

Major traumas are more like the traumas seen in sports injuries and road traffic collisions. Both types of trauma can be acute or chronic.

Acute trauma, is a recent trauma which you feel acutely, is very painful and nothing seems to make it feel better.

Chronic trauma is usually from events that have built up over time, or that happened a long time ago with long lasting effects including nagging aches and pains.

sciatic pain leg pain picture; Can Osteopathy help Sciatica pain?

Whichever type of trauma, you will notice it as being a source of aching or pain in your body.

At Baks, we use Osteopathy, Cranio Sacral Therapy and Acupuncture to not only deal with pain related issues, but in doing so we stimulate the Vagus nerve and so bring you to a state of relaxation.

Emotional stresses

Emotional stresses that are low grade (most common type), such as chronic work stresses, can commonly decrease Vagus nerve function.

You may notice this as feeling more stressed, anxious, depressed, angry and/or fatigued. Physically, you may notice neck or back tension, a physical problem which may be enough to bother you. It may also seem to be purely physical, without you suspecting an emotional component at all.

lady has a headache and baks osteopathy can help - The Vagus Nerve

Less commonly, higher level stresses can also reduce Vagus nerve function.

Higher level stresses are not for physical therapy to help with on their own. At Baks, it’s difficult to help deeply held traumas such as childhood trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) without you first seeing a mental health practitioner. These sorts of stresses would benefit from assessment by a mental health practitioner to decide what would work best for you.

After you have started treatment for your deeply held trauma, then it may be appropriate to include a physical therapy such as Craniosacral Therapy or Acupuncture, to supplement the advice given by a mental health practitioner.

Whatever your reasons for having reduced Vagal tone, each treatment we provide is tailored specifically to you, with individual treatment aims. Relaxing muscles and joints, thereby reducing the SNS and allowing the PSNS (Vagus nerve included) to function better is key.


Inflammation can be caused by aforementioned physical and emotional stresses, but also by a number of other causes, including:

  • Diabetes – affects arterial function, so affecting the blood to the Vagus nerve
  • Infection – COVID19 is associated with Dysautonomia which is a condition that affects your ANS in a negative way
  • Surgical – direct incision into the Vagus nerve
  • Scleroderma – a hardening of connective tissue which effectively strangles the Vagus nerve and corrupts its blood supply and drainage

Whichever cause of inflammation there is, the end result of it depends upon how long it is allowed to persist for.

Chronic inflammation can be responsible for diseases of the mind, the intestines and many other stress induced pathologies.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Typically, doctors prescribe medications to combat inflammation. However, there’s growing evidence that another way to combat inflammation is by engaging the vagus nerve and improving “vagal tone.”

Stimulating the vagus nerve (increasing Vagal tone) reduces inflammation and the symptoms of arthritis and a higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. Stimulating the vagus nerve can offer some people advantages over the use of drugs, such as lower costs and fewer side effects.

The Importance Of Allowing Yourself To Relax

The Vagus helps promote relaxation, which means that you feel better when your Vagus nerve is allowed to function optimally.

Feeling relaxed is a sign of better physiological function too. This means your body will be better able to fight disease and help you life in an optimal physical state. An example of this is something you already know about and probably experienced recently – ‘Christmas Dinner Syndrome’.

Christmas Dinner Syndrome, is the feeling you have when you have eaten too much and just want to sleep. It’s known along with the saying ‘rest and digest’ and is the Vagus nerve in action, making you feel sleepy whilst it acts to digest and process your food.

So how can you adjust your own Vagus nerve function, thus helping yourself to relax and improve nutritional absorption?

Things That Increase Vagal Tone

Whilst there is such a thing as overstimulation of the Vagus nerve, what I’m suggesting here are a few things for you to try: they are perfectly safe and they will not harm you.

  • Acupuncture, specifically auricular acupuncture, has been found to stimulate the Vagus nerve
  • Osteopathy, specifically that which is applied to the neck and base of the skull
  • Craniosacral Therapy
  • Exercising regularly, including tai chi and yoga if more appropriate for you
  • Gargling loudly or singing
  • Increasing your social circle and laughing more often
  • Eating oily fish and fibrous foods: even chewing gum helps with Vagal stimulation
  • Meditation
Pain Relief Just Got Easier at Baks Osteopathy Maidstone - credit GOsC - Make Your Journey to Better Health and Wellness Begin Here

Anything else? – well yes! funny you should ask that! Osteopathy helps Vagal tone too! – Oh, sorry, I already mentioned that didn’t I?…best move on to the next bit.

Find Out More

If you want to find out more about how we can help you to relax and improve your general health and wellbeing, contact us.

You can email, call or message us, or go right ahead and book in to see us via our new online booking feature. Just click the link below.

Paul Clarke
Paul Clarke
Easy to book, and was pleased to have the option of a bank holiday. In depth examination of medical history etc which provided confidence in the process, and explanations of the issues and remedies for the immediate problem.
Tanya Groves
Tanya Groves
Me and my boyfriend have used Phil for many years now! And wouldn’t go anywhere else. Phil’s a really nice man and an amazing osteopath. I be had appointments from back pain , to not being able to raise my arm, to neck stiffness. 1 appointment I had a bad neck and got an appointment with Phil the next day! With instance results for his work. If you are in need of an osteopath please contact Phil. He will not disappoint and you will want to return.
Brilliant service consultant very good took alot of information and good breakdown of findings, explained clearly of next steps of therapy.
oleg kobka
oleg kobka
after one treatment feel a result, thank you so much...
Baks Osteopathy is an excellent service and highly recommended . Phil is a brilliant osteopath who has really transformed my back pain . I have a desk bound job and have used Baks for acute problems and also general “ maintenance “ top up treatment .
Manu Rai
Manu Rai
Had suffered with excruciating back problem for a long- long time. After my friend recommendation, visited Dr Phil. He has a brilliant skills and experience and knows/ does best for the patient. After couple of visit with Dr Phil, my lingering pain came to ease making my life better and comfortable.
Emma Skinner
Emma Skinner
Contacted Baks Osteopathy due to years of tension and neck pain and stiffness. Was seen very quickly and Phil consulted with me and explained and outlined everything very well. It was my first visit and I left with notably less tension and stiffness in my neck and Phil showed me some exercises I can do at home to help with the overall tension I feel throughout areas of my body. Highly recommended, friendly, thorough, professional service with good results so far.
Jamie Hawkins
Jamie Hawkins
Have used Phil several times since 2020 for continuing maintenance on my lower back and neck/ shoulder pain He is thoroughly professional and helped every time I visited . I have moved from the area now so had to find another in my local area but I’d highly recommend Phil and his services
V Smith-G
V Smith-G
I have had osteo with Philip many times in block sessions for different reasons. This time i just couldn't right my lower back. It took several sessions to release tension and misalignment and then see the crux of the issue, one vertebra facing the wrong way causing compensatory changes further down. Since working on this, my back has been a lot better, not having to think about how i move, no pains and much more flexibility in my spine!
Vine C.
Vine C.
I had a debilitating migraine and couldn’t function - I went to Phil and thanks to his professionalism and skill the pain has eased and I can function again - thank you very much😊I’m smiling again

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