Vagus nerve and neck pain: diagnosis and treatment (2023)

If you think you're dealing with vagus nerve pain in your neck, you've come to the right place. We will help you understand everything you need to know about this nerve. This includes how it works and what role it plays, and how you can determine whether or not your neck pain is due to this nerve. Then we'll explain how you can start to alleviate some of your symptoms and discuss more serious treatment options and longer-term plans.

This is a tricky little nerve that can cause not only pain but also headaches and other strange symptoms throughout your body and mind, including anxiety and depression. You don't have to keep trying to overcome this discomfort, we're here to help. We've got a lot to cover, so let's start with a little anatomy.

What exactly is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is one that many people are not very familiar with because it is so opaque. Often, we don't know it exists until it gets infected or trapped, and that's when problems start to arise. This is the tenth cranial nerve, of which we have 12 in total. It starts in our brain and works through our spinal cord to the rest of our body.

We liken it to the roots of a tree extending through our bodies, and we like this analogy because it's accurate. The term vagus is Latin for "wander," which is exactly what this superlong nerve does: It travels throughout our bodies, and although you may not have heard of it until today, it's actually responsible for a variety of different functions. . .

The captain of the parasympathetic nervous system

The vagus nerve is considered the captain of the parasympathetic nervous system.American Council on Exercise. This means that it is extremely important in regulating many different parts of the body, including the stomach, intestines, heart and more. It's actually the nerve that connects our body to the gut; so if you feel something is wrong with your stomach, it could be that nerve. We'll go into more detail on this below.

(Video) VAGUS NERVE- (Causes, Signs, Symptoms & Treatment) Cranial Nerve X

What problems does the vagus nerve contribute to?

Stimulation of the vagus nerve can produce a wide variety of responses, most of which are negative. And interestingly, neck pain is just one of them. Other symptoms include depression and anxiety, as we mentioned, but also migraines, epilepsy, inflammation, arthritis, and more. Another interesting relationship between the vagus nerve and our heart is that inflammation or irritation prevents our body from regulating heart rate effectively, leading to tachycardia.

As you can see, this cranial nerve interacts with a number of different systems in our body, making it difficult to match symptoms to causes. Let's look at some specific conditions that may occur in more detail.

vagus nerve injury

Of course, if the vagus nerve is damaged, you'll have problems with neck pain, but you'll also experience other strange symptoms. You will notice voice problems, throat problems, increased heart rate, mental confusion, excessively high or low blood pressure, and bowel problems. Here are some specific conditions to look for:

  • Vocal cord problems causing hoarseness, wheezing or complete loss of voice
  • Absence of the gag reflex (which is a common test for vagus nerve dysfunction), along with an inability to swallow
  • Pain in the ear, along with the throat.
  • Excessive fluctuations in blood pressure accompanied by an elevated heart rate
  • nausea vomiting
  • Bowel pain, usually accompanied by bloating
  • Decreased stomach acid production, sometimes accompanied by dry retching

As this nerve runs from the brain to the cervical region and eventually to our intestines, there are many places where it can be damaged by an injury to the vagus nerve. The specific location and extent of the damage will determine what symptoms you have and how severe they are.

Gastroparesis due to vagus nerve damage

Some professionals believe that a condition known as gastroparesis can result from damage to the vagus nerve. This is a digestive disorder that causes involuntary contractions in the stomach. As a result, your stomach is unable to empty properly.

Because of this, people with gastroparesis experience symptoms related to poor gut health, such as nausea or vomiting, especially after eating. As gross as it sounds, you'll find that your food looks completely undigested when it respawns. Other notable symptoms include bloating, heartburn, abdominal pain, rapid weight gain without dietary changes, and blood sugar fluctuations.

(Video) Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and the vagus nerve - cervical instability can cause GI dysfunction

Vasovagal syncope (vagus nerve-related stress triggers)

One last specific condition that we would like to highlight is vasovagal syncope. In some cases, the vagus nerve can react negatively to certain stressors. These can be as simple as heat stress, prolonged standing, overexertion or more psychological stress triggers such as fear of physical harm or the sight of blood. Those with vasovagal syncope are at risk of fainting when exposed to certain stressors described above. These stressors cause a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure, opening the door to fainting.

How Vagus Nerve Stimulation Can Lead to Healing of Body and Mind

What's really unique about this nerve is that it doesn't just cause damage when it's inflamed or compressed. Proper stimulation can actually result in therapeutic benefits. Studies have shown that if youstimulate this nerveright way,With the proper medical equipment, healing can occur. Let's look at some examples.

Because this cranial nerve runs so widely throughout the body, it's important to stimulate it in the right places. An example of this is that stimulating the nerve can help treat depression. But that is not all. The nerve endings extend into the intestines, and stimulating them can help to streamline the digestive tract and eliminate acid reflux, which is made worse with an underactive vagus nerve.

This is not an easy fix.

Well, stimulating the vagus nerve is not as simple as a massage or acupuncture. It's a more invasive procedure that requires you to place a device in your body that uses electrical impulses to stimulate the nerve. It is usually placed under the skin of the breast and connected to the left side of the vagus nerve. When activated, the device sends signals along the nerve and communicates with the brainstem, where it connects. In addition to helping you adjust your nervous system, heart rate and treat other symptoms we discussed above, this therapyshows promise for treating diseasessuch as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and cluster headaches.

Down the middle of that long nerve, overexpression or underexpression can make or break the health of your nervous system, immune system, heart, and lungs. What makes this vagus nerve so unique and difficult to diagnose and work with is that it can contribute to bad or better conditions, depending on the stimulation. And many times you're dealing with one of the illnesses we've discussed so far (mental health issues, heart/lung issues, digestive/immune system issues, etc.) and have no idea that the real culprit is that weird little nerve. your neck.

Diagnosing problems with the vagus nerve

It is not easy to diagnose the malfunction of this nerve because it is very deep in our body and can present its symptoms in many ways. One way your doctor can detect problems with this nerve is by testing your gag reflex. If patients do not gag when stimulated with a cotton swab, this could indicate a nerve problem. That said, the point is to assess whether or not there is an injury, or whether the patient feels a pinched nerve somewhere in the neck, spinal cord, or deeper in the body.

(Video) The Vagus Nerve - Vasospasm Connection presentation by Ross Hauser, MD

Risk factors for vagus nerve dysfunction

If you are younger and play sports, you may not immediately turn to the vagus nerve when thinking about potential injuries; you're more worried about knee problems or concussions. However, the reality is that vagus nerve dysfunction is often caused by sudden injuries caused by twisting, bending, pulling or lifting. A common case where you can pinch that nerve in your neck and create all the problems we've mentioned so far is the bullwhip effect. Even if you don't exercise, it can happen after a car accident.

But trauma to the neck or the nerve itself is just one way to end vagus nerve neck pain. Studies have also found that this may be the resultspinal degeneration, an inevitability that comes with aging. A final risk factor we want to address is your posture. Not only is poor posture unpleasant, but it can also lead to neck pain and other stiffness throughout your body, as well as increase your risk of irritating the vagus nerve. Leaning your head forward and developing a technical neck increases your risk of developing vagus nerve problems, so watch your posture and protect your neck!

Strengthening the vagus nerve to prevent neck pain and dysfunction.

If you're worried that your vagus nerve could be causing neck pain or any of the other scary symptoms we've discussed so far, you're probably wondering if there's anything you can do to reduce the chance of injury or disruption. . nerve in your neck The answer is yes, luckily. It can strengthen your neck and make it less likely that you'll have problems here. A stronger neck is harder to injure, so you're protecting every nerve, spinal cord, ligament, etc. all over the neck. Let's start with some basic movements that will strengthen the muscles around the vagus nerve.

Start with neck extension and flexion.

When it comes specifically to the vagus nerve, you get the best reversal with extension and flexion exercises. They just move their head back and forth, keep their chin tucked in, and stimulate the little muscles in their neck. Neck extension is when you push your head forward and flexion is when you pull it back; keep your chin tucked in at all times. These two simple exercises are a great place to start, and we recommend adding a little resistance as you fine-tune your technique to really start growing a thick, bulletproof neck. Neck extension and flexion exercises can be easily performed with elastic bands or a neck harness.

Other Neck Exercises to Prevent Vagus Nerve Related Neck Pain

In addition to good old-fashioned stretches and bends, you can also use the other basic neck movements to create a stronger foundation for your head and help prevent injury. The neck is an incredibly versatile and fluid joint: you can move it in any direction with a combination of rotation and extension. This means you need to strengthen your neck in different directions and movement patterns.

Once you've established basic extension and flexion, move on to neck twisting exercises. Turning your head all the way to the right, holding it, then rotating it to the center and then to the left is a great way to start rotation exercises. From there, you can get more creative and do side stretching exercises, which involve trying to touch your ears to your shoulders. No matter what neck exercises you do, it's always important to figure out form before adding resistance. We have several video resources on our website to help you safely and effectively strengthen your neck.

(Video) Chronic neck-related symptoms without neck pain. Part 2: Vagus nerve and cervicovagopathy

Adding resistance to neck training exercises

Finally, to really combat neck pain and reduce the likelihood of neck injuries, you need to provide some resistance to your movements. Neck training is a little less common than other body parts; This is why, as a society, we have such weak, injury-prone necks.

This means that you may have never seen someone train your neck before and therefore don't have the right tools you need. That depends on how seriously you want to take neck training. If you just want to start off cheap, you can get someresistance bands, Adoor anchor, it is aneck harness.

This connects to your head and allows you to perform the movements described above with a little extra resistance. If you have a port to anchor your bands, you have a complete neck workout setup! But if you are an athlete and really want to increase your mobility, strength and unlock a 360 degree neck workout then this is what you need.iron neck training device.

Final thoughts on the vagus nerve and neck pain

Now you have a better understanding of what exactly the vagus nerve is and how it interacts in our body. Do you know that a pinched or irritated vagus nerve not only leads to neck pain but can also lead to a multitude of problems in our body and mind including increased anxiety, depression, headaches and migraines, immune system malfunction digestive health, increased heart rate and much more.

While all these problems can occur as a result of inflammation in the vagus nerve, we also explain how vagus nerve stimulation can help improve each of the areas mentioned above and is a common therapeutic practice today. This is not a nerve you want to irritate, so to avoid these symptoms, start strengthening your neck today and make it harder to hurt!


Can a damaged vagus nerve cause neck pain? ›

When the vagus nerve itself gets damaged, you'll obviously deal with some pain in your neck - but other weird symptoms will present themselves as well. You'll notice issues with your voice, problems with your throat, an increased heart rate, brain fog, excessively high or low blood pressure, and gut problems.

How is vagus nerve disease diagnosed? ›

How are vagus nerve disorders diagnosed? Your healthcare provider may order one of these tests to diagnose a problem with your vagal nerves: CT scan or MRI to look for intestinal blockages. Echocardiogram to assess heart function.

What is the treatment for vagus nerve disorders? ›

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a type of neuromodulation, which is a treatment that alters the activity of nerves. Vagus nerve stimulation involves implanting a device that sends regular, mild pulses of electrical energy to your brainstem through your vagus nerve in your neck.

What doctor treats vagus nerve problems? ›

A neurosurgeon will perform VNS, either in a hospital or an outpatient clinic. It is a minimally invasive procedure that can take up to 90 minutes.

Will MRI show vagus nerve damage? ›

Distal vagal lesions occur as an isolated paralysis of the vagus nerve with no symptoms or signs referable to the oropharynx. Either computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging can be used to diagnose proximal or distal lesions.

Which side of your neck is the vagus nerve? ›

The left vagal nerve runs down the left side of your neck, and the right vagal nerve runs down your right side. This nerve extends all the way from your brain to the large intestines: down your neck, through your chest, around your heart, around your lungs, and through your abdomen and intestines.

How do doctors fix vagus nerve? ›

It's called vagus nerve stimulation. Surgeons implant a device near the collarbone and run a wire to the vagus nerve. When the device fires it stimulates that nerve to send signals to the brain. This increases activity in areas that control mood.

How do you perform a vagus nerve test? ›

Glossopharyngeal and Vagus Nerves
  1. Ask the patient to cough (assessing CN X)
  2. Ask the patient to open the mouth wide and say 'ah', using a tongue depressor to visual the palate and posterior pharyngeal wall (assessing CN IX and X) The soft palate should move upwards centrally.

What are the symptoms of vagus nerve injury? ›

Potential symptoms of damage to the vagus nerve include:
  • difficulty speaking.
  • loss or change of voice.
  • difficulty swallowing.
  • loss of the gag reflex.
  • low blood pressure.
  • slow or fast heart rate.
  • changes in the digestive process.
  • nausea or vomiting.
Oct 22, 2021

How do you release the vagus nerve in your neck? ›

The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. Singing, humming, chanting and gargling can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve. And this has been shown to increase heart-rate variability and vagal tone (12).

What happens if vagus nerve is damaged? ›

Damage to the vagus nerve can cause digestive issues. The vagus nerve can become damaged for various reasons, including stomach or oesophagal surgery and type-2 diabetes. Symptoms of damage include hoarseness of voice, a deficient gag reflex and difficulty swallowing.

Where is the vagus nerve pressure point in the neck? ›

In a vagus nerve massage, moderate pressure is applied to the area between the trapezius and sternocleidomastoid muscles in the neck/shoulder area and at the muscles below the base of the skull, with twisting or stroking motions [1].


1. Digestion & the Vagus Nerve: Sphincter function and related symptoms affected by neck instability
(Caring Medical & Hauser Neck Center)
2. Chronic Neck Misalignment Does Not Come From the Neck
(Dr. Eric Berg DC)
3. Nausea caused from neck instability- the cervical spine and vagus nerve connection
(Caring Medical & Hauser Neck Center)
4. The Vagus Nerve, Chronic Inflammation, and the Neck
(Chris Centeno, M.D.)
5. Long-haul Covid symptoms and Cervical Instability overlap and Vagus Nerve Connection
(Caring Medical & Hauser Neck Center)
6. Neurology of Cervical Instability:Vagus Nerve webinar - Part 3 - Ross Hauser, MD
(Caring Medical & Hauser Neck Center)
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