Illustration of the Vagus Nerve and the organs it connects toThe Vagus nerve is a large nerve that originates in the brain and is the sensory network that tells the brain what’s going on in our organs. These specific organs include the stomach, intestines, lungs, heart, spleen, liver and kidneys and various other nerves that are involved in everything from talking to eye contact to facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices (Breit, Sigrid, et al. 2018).

The Vagus is an essential part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming the body’s response to danger and plays a vital role in sustaining overall wellness (Bonaz B,Sinniger V & Pellissier S.2017). When this vital nerve is not functioning properly, it can respond to stress in different ways and, as a result, can keep us in a “fight or flight” or “freeze” response mode

How does the Vagus nerve work?

Vagal tone is an internal process that represents the activity of the Vagus nerve. Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having a higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress (Scott BG, & Weems CF. 2014 and Pinna T. & Edwards DJ. 2020). Damage or poor activity of the Vagus nerve can result in the body being unable to respond to stress effectively.

Potential symptoms of damage to the vagus nerve are varied and each depends on what part of the nerve is damaged (Bonaz B,Sinniger V & Pellissier S.2017):

  • difficulty speaking
  • loss or change of voice
  • difficulty swallowing
  • loss of the gag reflex
  • low blood pressure
  • slow heart rate
  • changes in the digestive process
  • nausea or vomiting
  • abdominal bloating or pain

While your nervous system functions are primarily under subconscious control, there are a variety of techniques that you can use to calm your nerves and bring you back into a place of safety. Most of these techniques involve your Vagus nerve, which is responsible for managing stress, and lessen the feelings of anxiety and fear (McCraty.R & Zayas,MA. 2014).

You can stimulate this critical nerve with the following techniques (McCraty.R & Zayas,MA. 2014 and Emerson, D., & Hopper, E. 2011):Vagus relaxation technique
➤ Breathing deeply using your diaphragm
➤ Singing or humming
➤ Listening to stimulating music
➤ Making vocal sounds and humming
➤ Splashing your face with cold water
➤ Meditation
➤ Yoga
➤ Exercises
➤ Transcutaneous stimulation – a specific implant can be placed in your body to assist with stimulating the vagus nerve appropriately
➤ Making diet and lifestyle changes.

When the Vagus nerve gets stimulated, feelings of relaxation take over, your heart rate decreases, and breathing slows down (McCraty.R & Zayas,MA. 2014), all of which assist in managing stress and anxiety.

Your Physiotherapist can assist you with desensitising and stimulating your Vagus nerve by using stress management and other techniques.

This article was submitted by Jenilee Fortein who practises at the Douglasdale branch of Lamberti Physiotherapy. Contact her to discuss any symptoms you feel may be attributable to Vagus nerve dysfunction, or else use this form to make an appointment.

1. Emerson, D., & Hopper, E. (2011). Overcoming trauma through yoga: Reclaiming your body. North Atlantic Books.
2. McCraty.R & Zayas,MA. (2014) Cardiac coherence, self-regulation, autonomic stability, and psychosocial well-being.
3. Scott BG, & Weems CF. (2014) Resting Vagal Tone and Vagal Response to Stress: Associations with Anxiety, Aggression and Perceived Anxiety Control among Youth.
4. Bonaz B,Sinniger V & Pellissier S.(2017) The Vagus Nerve in the Neuro-Immune Axis: Implications in the Pathology of the Gastrointestinal Tract.
5. Breit, Sigrid, et al. (2018) ‘Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders’, Frontiers in Psychiatry.
6. Pinna T. & Edwards DJ. (2020) A Systematic Review of Associations Between Interception, Vagal Tone, and Emotional Regulation: Potential Applications for Mental Health, Wellbeing, Psychological Flexibility, and Chronic Conditions.
7. https://www.veramusic.com/blog/music-and-the-vagus-nerve