“I worked with a chiropractor prior to my orthopedic neck surgery. As I described my FM/CFS symptoms, he said, “What did you do to your neck?” I mentioned I’d been in a serious car accident 10 years earlier, sustaining a whiplash injury. He said he had yet to meet a patient with CFS who didn’t have a history of neck trauma. He said there was a theory that any sort of injury to the cervical spinal column either released a component that led to the disease, or allowed one to enter the spinal fluid.”
The quote above was lifted from the comments section in a 2007 article on chronic fatigue, which is interesting in its own light, as it discusses a viral hypothesis for CFS/ME. Rather than going into this now, which is plausible to me based on the positive impact of FMT on CFS, considering a healthy microbiota is likely to be inherently anti-viral, I’d rather stick with a discussion of the biomechanical overlap between IBD/CFS-ME/POTS, and then relate that to gut ecology.
I suffer from CFS/ME in addition to ulcerative colitis, asthma, and other inflammatory conditions. I also, as many of you know, have a history of neck trauma, caused in a traffic accident years ago. For me, the neck injury acted as a trigger for most of my health issues, so I have recently suspected vagal nerve damage as a possible root problem. The VN mediates inflammation and immunity in the body, to a large extent, and controls heart rate/BP, hormonal output (adrenals, chief among them), organ function, including gut transport (suggesting constipation, GERD may be related to VN damage), so it’s easy to see where a wide range of symptoms could have this common thread.
I’ve dubbed it the “Gut-Neck Axis” because I’ve found healthy alterations to my gut flora are just as curative (or at the least, beneficial) as achieving proper alignment of my neck! Either will provide relief, whether it’s a glass of home-brewed kefir, a chiropractic adjustment, or a manipulation I can do on my own.
Why would this be? Does an adjustment of my neck release electrical “noise” in my central nervous system, a bottled up energy produced by pathogenic or translocated gut flora (SIBO), or is it simply taking pressure off my vagal nerve, which could allow it to engage more bandwidth in performing its tasks?
My guess is both are true, because the neck is the physical fuse box between the brain and the enteric nervous system, the “gut brain”.
When hyperadrenergic POTS kicks in for me, my blood pressure and heart rate accelerate, I get obvious tinnitus, a stuffy nose, my gut stops moving, and I get very heat-intolerant. Much to my amazement, in recent days the use of a posture pump will stop all these symptoms, and quickly. Right away, I can feel peristalsis occurring, my nose opens up and I can feel my blood pressure dropping.
If I’m in the car and don’t have access to the device, often times just relaxing my neck, jutting my lower jaw forward a bit, and tilting my head back slightly will do the same. I’ve found it’s important to also try to elongate my neck as much as I can, by using muscles that extend it, whilst I simultaneously try to keep it limber, not stiff. At other times I get relief from just gently pushing in on my lower jaw (while it’s very relaxed), which seems to realign upper cervical vertebrae. There’s a zen to achieving this posture. It has taken practice, but luckily I get instant feedback when I’m doing it right, so I’ve made good progress.
By the way, it should be noted since we’re all different, I’m not recommending anyone try what works for me. This is not medical advice, and anyone reading along should consult their physician before attempting anything described herein.
The third leg of the stool, in this Axis, is active stress reduction. In any situation where I feel a high sympathetic state coming on, calming my mind, paying attention to breathing ( in for a count of 3, out for a count of 4) will act as a brake, and slow things down. For me, CFS/ME feels like a cardiovascular issue. I notice when hyperadrenergic POTS symptoms are flaring, I find it exhausting to stand; with my neck aligned properly I have much more energy.
One theory regarding a trigger for CFS is a vagal nerve infection, and I am not discounting this, but what if it’s also an impinged nerve, a transient impairment, that can be corrected with a spinal adjustment? It’s pretty clear to me my health issues have multiple avenues for healing, and there’s likely to be more than one root cause.
So to my broader point: in an attempt to simply feel as good as possible, I’ll continue to do each and every thing I’ve learned is having a positive impact on symptoms, whether it’s biomechanical or more related to gut flora. Since we know it’s a feedback loop, my theory is a neck injury can create a pro-inflammatory state in the gut that discourages the growth of vital gut flora. Stress can, too. Each of these, in turn, creates an inflamed gut that further discourages a healthy microbiome. It’s a vicious cycle. But by adding in cultured foods, probiotics, FMT, perhaps this reduces the electrical “noise” in the CNS, which makes mechanical manipulations less important.
I do know when I’ve done FMT a few times, it’s as if I’ve been seeing a chiropractor regularly. It’s all about relaxation, tilting over into a more parasympathetic-dominant mode, and a happy neck creates a happy gut, creates a happy brain. Furthermore, getting back to CFS, I notice FMT gives me a lot more energy. I can see where in the study cited above they may have had a much higher response rate with CFS/ME if the participants had simply done FMT for a longer period of time, say 6 to 8 weeks, rather than merely two to three days. I’d love to see another FMT study where participants were also given gentle chiropractic adjustments with an activator tool, massage therapy, and participated in guided meditation.
In the comments section I’d appreciate hearing from you. What are your own coping methods for cooling off the gut brain, staying in a more parasympathetic (restful/restorative/digesting) state? Also, if you have identified a neck-related trigger for IBD or CFS, which biomechanical approaches help the most? Have any of you had cervical spinal (neck) surgery? If so, what results have you had? I figure someone out there with IBD (ulcerative colitis or crohn’s) has had cervical spinal surgery and I’m very curious if this may have alleviated or improved the IBD.
If you enjoy this blog, you can support my work by buying things you need via this Amazon portal HERE, or by purchasing any product linked in articles. It costs you nothing extra, and helps me continue writing. Thanks!