Massage Therapy and the Long Reach of the Vagus Nerve

Massage Therapy and the Long Reach of the Vagus Nerve

From the links below, we learn that “the vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve that runs from the brain stem to the large intestine. It is appropriately named from the Latin work “vagus” which means “wandering” and is responsible for multiple functions of internal organs in the body.” As well, it plays a vital role in regulating your overall physical and mental wellbeing.

Your vagus nerve helps control sensory and motor functions of the sympathetic system  (fight or flight actions) which manages activities that increase energy output. It also controls the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digestive actions) which deals with the conservation of energy output. The parasympathetic nervous system with the assistance of the vagus nerve will lower the activity of the heart and respiratory system to return the body to a normal resting state. In parasympathetic mode, the vagus nerve can assist in calming blood pressure and slowing heart rate, quieting anxiety and reducing depression.


The link below shares greater detail about the role of the vagus nerve in body function but in short, the article indicates that the vagus nerve is involved in:

  • digestion
  • heart rate
  • breathing
  • cardiovascular activity
  • reflex actions, such as coughing, sneezing, swallowing, gagging and vomiting


  • It is also thought to play a role in the ‘gut-brain axis’ which addresses the relationship between physical and emotional characteristics. (eg: obesity and depression) Research is ongoing in this area
  • It is the mechanism that helps your body switch back and forth between your flight-or-fight response (sympathetic nervous system) and relaxation (parasympathetic mode)


When balance is lost here are Five ways to stimulate your vagus nerve so you can restore lost stasis in your body:

  • Massage techniques include:

1] Reflexology has been shown to increase vagal tone and decrease blood pressure

2]Targeted vagus nerve massages of the neck and shoulder area have been shown to improve vagal tone

3]Regular soft tissue massage of the shoulders has also been shown to improve vagal tone, so vagus nerve targeted massage may not be necessary.

4]A carotid sinus massage (CSM) is used to improve an abnormal heart rate in a medical setting, so you shouldn’t try it at home.


  • Meditation – to calm your mind, focus your breathing and slow your heart rate which can regulate your autonomic nervous system and manage cortisol levels


  • Exercise – working out and getting your body moving especially with interval training or endurance training can increase vagus nerve activity. It can lower sympathetic nervous activity and can control parasympathetic responses to provide a healthy balance between heart and lung functions.


  • Listening to Music – helps stimulate joy and taps into our emotions – a more controversial connection indicates that humming or singing or listening to calm soothing music may stimulate balanced functions of your vagus nerve.


  • Cold water immersion – research suggests that cold water immersion may reduce stress by slowing heart rate and redirecting blood flow to your brain.


The benefits of stimulating your vagus nerve include:

  • Supports the lessening of depression
  • Regulates emotions
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Lowers heart rate
  • Reduces inflammation


Check out the links below for further interesting and informative reading about the vagus nerve and how to support its healthy functioning.




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