Is it possible some of us with IBD also have an underlying neck injury, which drives gut inflammation?
The average human’s head is about the weight of a bowling ball, so it’s not surprising the neck can experience trauma due to an acute injury, or chronic misalignment through smart phone use (text-neck!) , poor posture on the job, inactivity, etc.
For me, inflammatory conditions began with antibiotic use, but they got MUCH WORSE after a neck injury, sustained in a traffic accident, several years ago. Initial symptoms were a stuffy, blocked nose without congestion, then asthma, GERD, sinusitis, tinnitus, TMJ, constipation, IBS, and a few years later ulcerative colitis.
UC lead to inactivity, more time spent in front of a computer, degenerative changes in my neck, throw in a dose of Levaquin for food poisoning, then SIBO, food intolerances, hyperadrenergic POTS, heart palpitations, even worse GERD, panic attacks/anxiety, and finally fibromyalgia-like pain and chronic fatigue.
I’ve had quite a few breakthroughs with health in the last few years, but the most profound occurred about a week ago when I realized many of these symptoms I’ve had for years (while directly linked to antibiotics use) are also mediated by my posture, specifically, if my neck is in an unhealthy kyphotic curvature (the reverse of a normal alignment, called lordosis) .
What’s the inflammation connection? The vagus (also called ‘vagal’) nerve runs throughout the body, getting its name “the wanderer” from the widespread path it travels, but it threads its way through a narrow channel in the cervical spine, such that compression of soft tissues between the upper cervical vertebrae can impair a lot of vagal function. This is my layperson’s view. Let’s see if our experience bears this out.
Given that the “fight or flight” response includes a clenching of neck muscles, in preparation for fleeing, is it possible this reduction of parasympathetic response (relaxation) is partially a built-in biomechanical feature of our bodies? If so, chronic stress, with its attendant tightening of that upper cervical spine, may be a vicious cycle — one that we can fairly easily monitor and turn around!
In a previous post I mentioned the posture pump I’ve been using. It’s fairly inexpensive, and definitely effective, but also impractical for anyone out and about in the world. For a cheaper, more portable option, try a NeckBone Pillow.
But what if we could do something similar with no equipment at all? Enter the “Alexander Technique“.
I’m warning you: this practice is so simple, you may wonder if you’re doing much at all, but when performed properly, you’ll notice a big difference. For some, this perfecting of posture and movement may be all you’ll need.
I have developed the habit, in just a few short days, of “sitting tall” in my car, as I’m driving. I tilt my head back ever so slightly, so that my chin is jutting forward. Lordosis! I can feel my nasal passages opening, my sinuses draining. I also notice my blood pressure dropping, as pressure (I assume) is taken off my vagus nerve.
Furthermore, when I adopt this posture throughout the day, I notice the “heat” that fills my entire lower abdomen, and gives rise to gut inflammation, mucus in stools, dull pain — this totally goes away. Hmmm…
I know I’m not the only person who experienced the sudden onset of hyperadrenergic POTS after a neck injury. A cardiologist I consulted a few years ago about my POTS symptoms mentioned one hyperadrenergic patient of his who was a perfectly healthy woman until she got whiplash in a car crash. I’m in touch with someone else on Facebook who had a skiing accident. She hurt her upper cervical spine, and has had POTS (the low blood pressure type) ever since.
This is certainly sad, especially given how little the allopathic doctors understand about hyperadrenergic POTS, UC or other forms of IBD — typically they are good at treating acute symptoms — but if permanent neck trauma is indeed part of a range of inflammatory triggers, we can at least try to heal vagal nerve function from the gut side of the equation.
Our enteric nervous system is a feedback loop, so the Gut/Brain/(Neck?) Axis works in reverse, and if we have mechanical impairment “upstairs”, boosting gut flora signaling via the vagal nerve, from gut to brain, may compensate for the neurological impairment in some people. I’ve been tinkering a lot with gut flora (in yogurt, sauerkraut, my own homemade kefir and probiotics) that may promote parasympathetic (relax and digest) activity. More on that in a future post.
Does anyone else have a history of neck injury or strain that could explain more global issues? If so, I’d appreciate hearing from you in the comments section.
EDIT: since writing this article not long ago, I’ve spoken to huge numbers of IBD sufferers who had a neck injury immediately preceding the onset of their illness. I’d appreciate your feedback. If you’ve had a similar experience and would like me to include your story in a future post, send me an email via the contact form. Thanks!