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.

**UPDATE to this Case Study with Follow Along Movement Class**

Neck Mobility Vagus Nerve Flossing – Movement Therapy – Feb 04, 2021

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Jesse James

17 Replies to “Vagus Nerve Entrapment Causing Atrial Fibrillation with Tachycardia – Case Study”

  1. Interesting! I have similar problems… I’m working with an Orthopedic, I think my vagus nerve is getting pinched by my clavicle but I think it’s either ribs or something wrong in/around my left shoulder at the root cause.
    I had a physical therapist try to adjust my 1st & 2nd ribs a few times and I swear I was going to die on the table. My heart rate jumped up to 150+ so that’s why I’m fairly confident ribs are at least part of the cause, but what’s pushing the ribs into my clavicle, right?! My scapula? Ugh. Using my left arm in any way or even just getting it tense/tightened just simply by stress escalates my heart rate over 100. I take muscle relaxers & Tylenol daily to keep myself sane. Laying down and turning my head left seems to help calm the nerve & heart rate along with the drugs and using ice on my neck, upper shoulder & clavicle, and deep breathing. But it’s truly maddening… if you fix yourself, please let me know what actually does it! Thanks!! And Good Luck!!

  2. I have the same problem. Twenty years ago a chiropractor violently twisted my neck to the left then back to the right several times. Everyone in the room heard the sounds it made. Within hours I was in the emergency room with a heartbeat of 145, difficulty breathing, dizziness and blurred vision. Gradually the severity of the symptoms diminished but I still have problems to this day. Like the lady above I also ice my neck several times a day (frozen peas and elastic bandage). When I start feeling like my finger is in a light socket I take a muscle relaxant. I have seen several doctors about this and only two have come to correct conclusions in my opinion. One agreed quickly with the gentleman writing the article, namely that the vagus nerve is being pinched and is unable to down regulate the heart. Another specialist I saw in China said that when the chiropractor twisted my neck so violently it stretched the ligaments which now allow the vertebra to move. This instability triggers nerve involvement. Either way the symptoms are really life altering. I have tried everything imaginable (easy sine my wife was a doctor) but the only things that help consistently are ice or a muscle relaxer (Flexerol 5-10mg) Good luck everyone. Do the best you can with what we have.

    1. Hi Charles,

      Thank you for your comment. I am sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately, it is a far too common one.

      Since I originally made this post, I’ve experienced a significant improvement in symptoms with my movement practice as the only therapeutic intervention. I posted an update to this post on our Youtube channel “Neck Mobility Vagus Nerve Flossing – Movement Therapy – Feb 04, 2021“.

      I have a theory that, if you are experiencing a vagus nerve impingement, then you would see significant and meaningful improvement in your symptoms. I would love to have an opportunity to chat with you in person. Would you be open to scheduling an online consultation? As a Gift Economy practitioner, I do not charge for consultations. You can schedule an online consult here (https://theartoffitness.fullslate.com/services/537?start=4803).

      I look forward to chatting with you soon.
      Jesse James

  3. My husband fell on the slippery ice next to his vehicle one night, landed on his left shoulder and never went to the doctor to have it looked at, instead let time heal it where he can use his arm and shoulder without pain now, but has restriction, popping, and loss of strength. His shoulder looks different that the other one in that he looks to have torn something so there is a space at the top of the ball and socket joint and the shoulder appears more square and narrow. His right side of his back and ribs are hunched outward and his shoulders are not even with each other. He started experiencing AFIB around the same timeframe and it has continued daily for two years so far. I think it’s directly related to the fall and want him to go to a chiro, just don’t know if anyone is good enough for this diagnosis. Any suggestions in MInnesota?

  4. Seventeen years ago, as I was exercising, I had a neck injury, two slipped discs and seven years later serious spinal cord impingement in two places. I had surgery with two level discectomy with bone fusion. On x-ray, I saw my neck was straight instead of curved as it should be. I was told it will never go back to what it was before the accident. I use muscle relaxers when tension in my neck and lower back will not relax. What interested me in your article is seeing this x-ray. Moreover, for many years I have suffered with chronic constipation. I do see a chiropractor who is wonderful for me. After trying almost everything made by God and man to relieve the constipation, I began to look further. I began to research nerve conduction, or rather lack of it, in my colon. I talked with an orthopedist who I saw for chronic lower back pain caused by scoliosis. He told me he didn’t think a nerve impingement was the cause, as usually a nerve problem in the lower back would cause loose stools, not constipation. I spoke with my chiropractor, and he has adjusted others with similar issues with great success. However, his adjustments did not solve my problem. I researched more about the vagus nerve. I really believe there is a connection. About seven years ago, I had an abnormally slow heart rate with low-normal blood pressure. Doctors were not concerned. In the last few months, my blood pressure has gone sky high with a normal heart rate. I have never had an issue with blood pressure ever before in my life. I would like to learn more, and wonder if a vagus nerve impingement in my neck could cause these problems.

  5. Im in the same boat. .. after a high speed head on with drunk many years ago…. catching my breath to stomach issues heart burn to now nausea and stomach and lower pain. Heart races as well. I have a severe reverse curve of the neck. And a farm of bone spurs.. my inverdion table relieve, but going to a doctor and explaining its my neck that is root of all my issues.. gets brushed aside.. uuugh the feeling my neck being squeezed tight and restricted to sore neck muscles sore. I know exercise can fix. But doctor seems overwhelmed lol. I been in excellent shape symtoms and age got me..

    1. Hi Philip,

      Thank you for the comment. Sorry to hear about the accident. Our injuries certainly shape us. The challenge is to mold that shape into something positive. With all of the comments on this post, I’m getting the sense that there is something true about the hypothesis that nerve impingement in the neck is a significant causal factor for all these downstream effects.

      I’d be happy to chat with you about your injury and symptoms, as well as include you in a “beta” group to see how a movement practice can help improve our outcomes. Feel free to schedule a free online consultation here. I look forward to meeting with you soon.

      Jesse James Retherford

  6. I too have had this problem for around 30 years off and on. It is usually triggered by raising my left arm or laying on my left side so I believe it stems from my upper-mid back. I have recently discovered that if I lay on a flat surface, hold my nose, close my mouth and take a deep breath it usually stops the episode. This may not work for everyone but I believe this moves my spine off of the affected nerve. Good Luck to you all because this really sucks.

  7. Thank you for allowing us to comment as it seems there’s a group of us in this challenging journey.
    My neck popped when I woke up at the end of May, 2019 on an average morning when I yawned and stretched.. until POP in my neck. I felt my entire side go numb, had to go to the bathroom instantly and had a near syncopal episode. Many Dr appts later I learned I herniated & tore C6 and have a reverse curve. . Now over two years later I am still having “episodes” that make me feel like my heart is racing or rate drops, dizziness, shaking and exhaustion occur. It seems postural making me believe my cervical spine has instability affecting my vagus nerve and giving me heart palpitations.
    Has anyone had relied, a standing MRI to confirm or deny their theories, or any other conclusive tests?

    1. Hi Andrea,
      Thank you for sharing your very personal story.

      Unfortunately, I have not heard from anyone who has had any imaging done. At least, not in a way that would confirm or deny the hypothesis of vagal nerve entrapment causing heart arrhythmia, or any of the other symptoms that could be associated with the vagus nerve.

      Personally, it’s been years since I’ve spoken to my doctor about this issue. I spent 10+ years getting poked and prodded; all of the scans and imaging; and 24 hour to multi-week heart monitors. My primary care and cardiologists were not very receptive to this Vagal Nerve Entrapment hypothesis. I was given three, of what I considered, very poor options 1) blood thinners, 2) cardiac ablation, and 3) pacemaker.

      Over the past few years, I have spoken to a few MD’s who share some theoretical agreement in the hypothesis. Unfortunately, I was not seeing them as a patient.

      The best that I have in terms of confirmation of this hypothesis is my purely anecdotal case-study.

      Over the past year, I have intentionally added more specific neck and spinal mobility into my daily Movement Therapy practice. In that time, I’ve noticed a significant reduction in arrhythmia (frequency, time, and intensity), which seems to continue to improve, as long as I am diligent with my self-care movement homework:

      Frequency of occurrence
      -was: 1-2 x per week
      -current: 1-2 x per month

      Amount of time in arrhythmia
      -was: 4-12+ hours
      -current: rarely longer than 2-4 hours

      Overall intensity levels of event.
      -was: sitting to standing “I am running full speed and how do I get the room to stop spinning”
      -current: “sitting feels like standing and standing feels like a light jog”

      When I slack on my self-care movement, the frequency and intensity tend to increase. It isn’t perfect, but I am grateful for any improvement.

      I would love to have more “cohorts” to test validity of both the hypothesis, as well as the corrective strategy. Let me know if you’re interested.

      Jesse James Retherford
      You can schedule a free consultation here.

  8. I believe I am having similar issues. As my cervical injuries worsen, so too do my heart palpitations. And, to be frank, although I’m not a doctor, I’m surprised more physicians, spine specialists, and cardiologists don’t put two and two together. With a lag person’s knowledge I’ve concluded the connection is obvious: There are quite a few studies indicating this very sort of cervical-cardio complication. That’s how I arrived here, to now write this comment.

    I am having a two-level cervical disc replacement next Friday, as part of a trial which, once proven, will allow the FDA to authorize the Pro Disc for cervical disc replacement. It is currently only approved for the lumbar region in the US, but has been in use for over s decade in Europe. I imagine with restoring my lordosis (curvature) and acquiring proper sleep for the first time in years, my symptoms will improve.

    I’ve had a battery of tests to ensure my heart is physiologically sound: EKG, ECG, blood work, MRI, Holter monitors. No underlying conditions. I am a healthy 30 year-old male who runs two miles every other day, blood pressure 110/65 (when not stressed lol), and a resting heart rate as low as 47 BPM at night.

  9. I am kind of in the same boat… no injury to speak of but bad posture, shoulder, head and neck pain.
    I have had paroxysmal atrial fibrillation for
    7 years… more frequent episodes in the last couple of years. Most last a couple of hours and up to 12 hours. Ablation is the likely suggestion but I think the problem is elsewhere in my nervous system. Several different reasons why – physiologic… a pinched nerve jolt upon palpating at the base of my neck near collarbone. Arrhythmia. Anxiety issues for years. Gerd.

    1. Hey Mike,
      Thank you so much for sharing. I would love to chat with you. I have a feeling that the movement discipline that I teach (The TAOFit Method) to be powerfully helpful. If not with the arrhythmia, definitely with posture, anxiety, and pain. If you’re interested in some guidance, feel free to schedule a free consultation.

      Jesse James

      As a practitioner of Gift Economy, all of my services are available for free as a gift to community. For anyone who finds value in the work that I teach, you can gift back by joining The TAOFit Method Movement Mentorship on Patreon.

  10. Definitely onto something here fellas.
    I’ve been diagnosed with scoliosis, degenerative disc diseases, non curvature neck, along with a host of other back problems long ago I had it checked out, did physical therapy. The therapist was looking at my Xray upside down, had me do exact opposite exercises for weeks, I lost all trust in chiropractors. Likewise, my neck never bothered me until he started popping and twisting it. Yes it felt kinda good to get the nerve relief, but overall now my neck feels alot more tense, and basically requires some minor adjust popping every few hours. Much like someone who pops their knuckles. My necks never been the same. My vertebrae in neck were also diagnosed as near rupture status. I’m now 40, just diagnosed with melanoma cancer from a mole on my left ear. Needless to say stress levels are way higher than normal. So when I recently noticed sleeping on my left side triggers some rapid, strong pulsating heart beat basically felt very uncomfortably throughout my entire body, I got concerned and started researching. Brought me here. Theres without a doubt a vagus nerve connection with the heart and I strongly feel my case already proves it to me. I missed by 1pt for my RN nursing degree so I am a bit more experienced than most, but no I walked away from college altogether after my guy in nursing experience. Anyway, long story short, I’m very interested in how this might be corrected permanently. And its obvious to me theres no easy answers. I hate lying on my back its just always been how I sleep on my stomach, side to side. Knowing I cant sleep on left side anymore is a bit worrying to say the least. The clavicle, rib, and shoulder comment is intriguing, but my gut says it has more to do with the spine and neck area, also the stomach and diaphgram pushing on the area abnormally when laying on the left side or stomach. Anyway, I hope and pray all the best for everyone and the most important thing I’ve gathered so far is to try and avoid the triggers, for me laying on left side. I’ve had episodes of numbness before but not as much lately, thank God, removing this almost golf ball cyst from my left breast area seems to have helped my circulation overall. That along with the ear mole was just 2 simple things I wanted out and done with. Sadly, the melanoma diagnosis has me going on further to deal with such a problem. Upon having the rapid heartrate trigger, I know from my scientific education that as alarming as it is, stressing doesnt help so I immediately go into my own personal chill out mode, change position, and luckily it goes away fairly quickly, minutes. The advice and studys about slowed breathing, I can pretty much guarantee will help anyone get their heart rate back down to normal faster upon occurences. 5secs to breathe in, 5secs out, as studied by Dr. Gupta, check out his work on the subject when you have time, I have not yet but this certainly will add relief for all of us suffering from this nerve to heart issue. Stay blessed, stay healthy. Thats next for me, b/c I smoke, drink tons of soda to keep me awake for these graveyard hotel auditor shifts. Get in better shape, so tough for some of us and this pandemic SO hurt all of us a collective humanity across the world, having cut all of our activities down immensely. For some of us like myself, we were already very lazy, this extra weight and stress and lazyness and grunbhubs just set us all back. Stay positive, no matter how difficult, were all in this together in more ways then we know. Just like our whole body, every system and cell, every nerve every connection it all effects everything. Keep researching, keep exercising and stretching, and take it easy. Finally, be very careful and mindful when taking anyones advice, even mine, even your Doc or chiropractor. If there’s no actual definitive cure? The fact is we don’t know for sure. I for one, wont pretend like I do.

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