The Enteric Nervous System is an underrated cause of chronic gut issues. We often experience symptoms like bloating, food sensitivities, or constipation and wonder what the root cause is. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always a structural issue in the gut or because of the food you’re eating. Sometimes it comes down to dysregulation of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). More specifically, the branch of the ANS called the Enteric Nervous System. Thankfully, there are specific movements and therapies to help regulate this system. Even something as simple as abdominal massage can help. Our friend and neuroplasticity expert Lindsay Mitchell of Vital-Side joins us today to discuss all things Enteric Nervous System.
The “Second Brain”
We often hear about the Vagus Nerve and its effect on the gut but the Enteric Nervous System is very important as well. The Enteric Nervous System is often referred to as a second brain because it can work independently of the brain and spinal cord! That just shows how much power it has. It contains five times the number of neurons that the spinal cord has! Moreover, any dysregulation that occurs within the Parasympathetic or Sympathetic Nervous System (the better known branches of the Autonomic Nervous System) will also affect the Enteric Nervous System. Therefore, GI issues could be from faulty neurological information coming to the gut
Regulating the Enteric Nervous System
So how do we regulate the Enteric Nervous System to combat chronic gut issues? First of all, we can work on the Parasympathetic and Sympathetic branches of the ANS. In specialized physical therapy we consider which branch of the nervous system is dysregulated and which nerve fibers might be contributing to that. We know that the neck and sacrum have some Parasympathetic fibers. Along the thoracic and upper lumbar area (T1 to L3) we find Sympathetic fibers. Improving the function of these nerve fibers directly improves the functioning of that branch of the ANS!
This is a huge part of what we do at PARR PT and why our exercises seem very different from traditional PT. We target the correct areas of the spinal cord to regulate that nerve function. We can use movements and postural shifts and brain retraining to begin retraining those fibers. This is the amazing thing about neuroplasticity. You can really re-train your brain and your nerves to function better. Even deep breathing exercises like we showed in the previous video. At PARR PT we do a lot of diaphragmatic breathing to stimulate the gut in addition to soft tissue work. It is essentially a starter kit that we send patients home with to begin regulating their GI system, in addition to the larger whole-body program to address the entire Autonomic Nervous System. In this video we demonstrate a simple Abdominal Massage for helping this system.
Both PARR PT and Vital-Side utilize neuroplasticity to retrain various body systems and improve their functioning. If you have questions moving forward about any of this we would love to speak to you about our customized recovery programs. Thank you once again to Lindsay Mitchell for joining us!