Vagus Nerve Entrapment Causing Atrial Fibrillation with Tachycardia – Case Study

My theory: I have a Vagus Nerve Entrapment Causing Atrial Fibrillation with Tachycardia due to the reverse curve of my neck.

History:

I occasionally get A-fib with tachycardia – an irregular heartbeat with an increased heart rate. I believe these episodes are caused by a Vagus nerve entrapment. I started having episodes in my mid to late twenties. The medical diagnosis was that it was caused by a hyperactive thyroid. At the time, my entire metabolism was haywire. I was burning over 5000 calories a day at rest, not including exercise (measured through resting and active VO2 testing) and had lost over 20 pounds in less than two months. I would experience A-fib episodes that lasted 5-8 days (day and night).

Over the years, my thyroid has returned to normal function, but I continue to have A-fib episodes, although much briefer in duration (a few to less than 24 hours). I’ve seen endocrinologists and cardiologists. They don’t know the root cause and the only solutions they have been able to offer are either pharmaceutical drugs or surgery (ie pacemaker). I tried drugs. The side effects were untenable and I’m not willing to have invasive heart surgery when the doctors really don’t understand the cause of the condition. I’ve witnessed way too many people have these types of surgeries which either didn’t solve the “problem” and often made things worse.

These episodes are not comfortable. My nervous and cardiovascular systems are in a state of overload and stress. My heart is working 25-35% harder at everything I do. It basically feels like I’m running… when I’m sitting, lying down, and sleeping. Physiologically it feels like I’m having an anxiety or panic attack. Any kind of physical activity, such as climbing stairs or working out, immediately leaves me breathless and occasionally dizzy.

Reverse curve compared to posterior curveI also have a posterior or reverse curve to my cervical spine (as seen on x-rays). The cervical spine should have an anterior curve. This is a significant structural adaptation that has more than likely developed from my extensive injury history – concussions, whiplash injuries from multiple car and motorcycle accidents, knee surgeries, and many other injuries.

Vagus Nerve (a very rough overview)

The Vagus nerve (CN X) is a cranial nerve that is directly linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, playing a role in heart rate, respiration, and digestion. The Vagus nerve helps to down-regulate or slow down heart rate after the body goes through a sympathetic “fight or flight” response – ie the massive adrenaline rush after a scary situation. In our modern world, most of us are in a constant state of stress creating a low-level “fight or flight” response. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are constantly interacting with one another to maintain some semblance of homeostasis or balance.Vagus nerve

The Vagus nerve originates in the brainstem, traveling down through the neck (external to the spinal cord and spine). Since it travels outside the spinal cord, it is exposed to potential muscular, fascial, or structural entrapment.

My Theory

Due to the reverse curve in my neck, any kind of excess tension or restrictions in the muscle/fascia or vertebral position of the cervical region can occasionally entrap the Vagus nerve. If the Vagus nerve becomes entrapped, the electrical signals between the brain and heart (or respiratory and digestive systems) can become inhibited – ie experience some loss of signal. This loss of signal affects the balance between the conversation of sympathetic and parasympathetic related to heart rate and can cause heart rhythm irregularities. In my case, less signal to downregulate the heart rate which leads to an increased heart rate and arrhythmia.

Movement Session

Today, I am experiencing an episode of A-fib with tachycardia. There is also tension/restriction in my neck related to specific movement patterns. My focus of this session is to improve neck and spinal mobility through the combination of self-massage (using a Thera-cane and lacrosse ball) and Movement Therapy to free the Vagus nerve from entrapment. The past few times I’ve had an episode, this combination seemed to help resolve the arrhythmia pretty quickly.

When searching for the underlying root cause of a “problem”, it is easy to get into a game of the chicken or the egg. The “problem” is rarely ever found with just one simple solution. The human body is a complex system of complex systems. Each system is intricately connected to one another in a constant feedback loop. When one system isn’t working properly, it affects change and can cause other systems to stop working properly, which then feeds back into the larger system, wreaking havoc. This is just one theory that I am playing around with in my movement practice.

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The Art of Balance to Prevent Falling Injuries

This Move Minute is all about improving your vestibular balance skills. Considering that one in three adults over 65 falls each year, and falling is one of the leading causes of death or disability for older populations, balancing is a hugely important movement and life skill to work on.

The Art of Balance to Prevent Falling Injuries
The Balance Challenge

The goal is 10 minutes per day for 30 days balancing on a 2×4, balance bar, slackline, or other balance tools (variety is your friend). If you’re up for it, film it, and share it. I’d love to see and hear about your progress.

The Art of Balance to Prevent Falling Injuries

You will need:
A seven-foot 2×4 (or other balance tool)

To begin:
In order to cultivate this skill adequately, balancing needs to be practiced every day. Because of this, it is important to keep a 2×4, or another balance tool, in a main room or hallway. If it is placed behind a couch or out of sight, the chances are high it will collect dust and not get used. Keeping it out in the open increases the opportunity to engage and play.

Go slow. You want to find where balance is most challenged. Speed and momentum can cover this up. You want to go so slowly that you feel unbalanced… this may feel frustrating, but it is a good place to be. This is where your nervous system is learning. The slower the better. Keep at it and it will improve.

Drop your arms and focus on your breath. When you feel unstable, soften your knees, breathe fully, and allow your arms to fall to your side.

Take off your shoes. Another added benefit of balance work, it is a great way to strengthen the intrinsic musculature of the feet.

One thing I love about the balancing on a 2×4 is that it mimics our natural environment. As you get better at balancing, you can start seeking balance play in your everyday life. I love balancing on tree roots, curbs, sidewalk cracks, railings, fallen trees, and so much more. Give it a go and let me know how it feels.

About Move Minute:

Move Minute is our way of helping the world get up and moving. Each video will teach you at least one technique to help preserve mobility in just one minute. In many cases, these movements can be done anywhere and performed in seconds. With Move Minute, you can learn how to maintain your ability to move for the rest of your life in just a minute or two a day.

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Move Minute: Chair Yoga for Back Pain

A little over a week ago, I posted six movements I call – Movement Restoration and Exploration. These six movements compose the first week of what I teach every new client to help them begin their movement practice journey.  Have you tried them?

If no,
How does your body feel? Pain? Aches? Do you want to feel better? If so, check them out and give them a try for a week and then come back to this email.

If yes,
Great! How does your body feel? Ready for week two?

Week Two: Chair Yoga for Back Pain

These three super sweet movements are a part of the second week of my teaching. It is a part of a series I call – Chair Yoga for Back Pain – Movements for the Office.

Most of us sit for 6+ hours per day (or even more). The most important place for you to move… is in the very position you spend your time. Which means your chair is one of the most important places for movement. Moving from the seated position is Vital for our long-term health and wellness!

Together, these three movements express the 3-D mobility of your spine. I have had great success using these movements personally and with clients to ease low back pain and hip pain.

An added benefit about these movements, that I love,  is how they stimulate my brain. I immediately feel like I’ve had a shot of movement caffeine. I’m more alert, present, aware, and my work productivity improves. These movements provide a serious bang for the buck.

This week’s movement challenge:

Continue practicing the original Movement Restoration and Exploration 2-3 times per day.

AND…

Read and reread the instruction and then do all three Chair Yoga movements every day, performing 3-5 reps per movement once every 50-90 minutes that you are in the seated position. Once you have these movements down, it should only take 1-3 minutes to go through this flow. We all have 1-3 minutes to spare throughout the day. This should not take away from your day. In fact, it will give you back more time.

If you experience pain, resistance, or have any questions, please feel free to send a comment to the Youtube video or contact me directly.

Seated cat cow

I love this movement because I can feel the full segmental flexion and extension of my spine. And when I can’t because of back tension or pain… my body knows the movements… and these movements can help release the tension… reducing the pain.

This can be done with head held in extension or allowing full flexion similar to traditional quadrupedal cat/cows. I also like to add in head and neck mobility in both positions.

Seated side body

I love how this movement lengthens my spine in lateral extension without moving the opposite side into lateral flexion… and I can feel it from my fingertips, throughout my arm and shoulder, through my low back side body, into hips, down to the knee. This is a position of length that our bodies rarely experience… and desperately need.

Seated rotation

I find the focus of this movement awakens the relationship between my thoracic spine to hips. I can feel spine move segment by segment… I can sense which joints are allowing movement and which are holding it down. Once I find a good spot… I will softly move in and out of it… encouraging length… without forcing it. It should feel like a soft stretch… not massive.

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Life After Hip Replacement Surgery

The Big Suck

Life after hip replacement surgeryA client of mine, a fantastic woman in her 60’s who loves volunteering at the art museum, came in to see me to improve her life after hip replacement surgery (This was her second major replacement surgery–she had had a knee replacement many years prior).

Due to chronic pain, she was no longer able to maintain her role for the museum. When pain takes away movement, it creates a belief system that this is the new normal… This is life after hip replacement surgery! It is a place of hopelessness. I call it the “Big Suck”! 

She arrived at her first visit with a cane, unable to bear weight, stand, or walk without the cane due to the hip pain. She had already completed 6-12 weeks of postoperative physical therapy which not only didn’t help but actually caused the pain to worsen. 

We began our work with Movement Restoration and Exploration, focusing on simple ground-based movements to improve the pain-free function of the hips and spinal mobility. We went through a step-by-step process to strengthen her hips; build movement function up to a standing position, and then slowly improved her hip stability to the point she was able to let go and walk without the cane. It took several months, and she has been moving without the cane for over a year now.

New Life After Hip Replacement Surgery

I wish you could have seen her face when she ditched her cane to the dustbin. It was a moment in which her life changed. It was profound. These are the moments which make me love the work I do. Now she is able to spend 4-6 hours on her feet, giving tours and teaching about art. She is back to the life she loves.

Now that she’s ditched the cane, we have continued to work on practical movement skills, such as getting up and down off the floor in a variety of ways; squatting; sitting down into a chair without “falling” or “plopping”; standing up without bracing or using momentum heaving herself up. These are skills that may seem simple on the surface, but when you’re in pain, you lose the ability to do them. And when these skills come back to life… I really cannot express the empowerment that I get to witness. It is simply awe-inspiring and amazing.

The work we did wasn’t complicated. It wasn’t “hard.” It was simple, somewhat basic, and often tedious. It was also highly effective because she was consistent. She added in the daily homework like a boss; gradually improving her movement, and the best part–changing her life in the process.

You see, this client thought the pain was forever, that it was her new normal. Imagine not being able to walk without support. Imagine regaining that freedom, and how amazing you would feel. Imagine re-discovering parts of your body that you believed were lost due to age and old habits! 

It is your turn

You too can experience similar life-change, and even better, you can get it for Free!

This Friday, I am launching an exciting new, FREE program that can lead you into better, more sustainable movement practices. Whether you’re struggling with pain or just wanting to build a better foundation for movement, this online content is for you.

Want to ensure that you get the content when it launches

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Movement Restoration and Exploration

Do you have chronic pain? Do you have a strong desire to move, but don’t know where to start? Or every time you start the newest greatest workout, do you end up injured within the first few weeks? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then I hope to inspire you to move your body in a new way.

New Program Launching Friday!

I am incredibly excited to share my life-changing movement practice with you.

This Friday, I will send out the first installment of a practice I call Movement Restoration and Exploration. It will be a series of seven movement videos to help you awaken your human being. Each week, I will send out a new movement series. 

These movements are the first lessons of my teachings. They are my daily movements. They are the starting point of what I teach every client who walks through my doors. 

For years, pain and injury was the story of my life. Movement restoration and exploration have changed my relationship with pain and in the process changed my life. I have also witnessed the lives of my clients change with these movements. (I will tell you the story of one such client tomorrow). I believe that they have the potential to change your life too. 

To ensure that you get the content when it launches, click over to my YouTube page and subscribe now! https://www.youtube.com/c/TheArtofFitnessAustin

 

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