Neurologic, digestive, cardiac, and bladder disorders: Some of the symptoms of Autonomic nervous system dysfunction and treatment options.
Ross Hauser, MD
At our center, we see many patients with a myriad of mysterious and simultaneous conditions and symptoms. Typically they also start treatment with us by explaining and showing us the shopping bag full of medications that they are taking for each symptom and the very thick printout of all the tests that they have had performed over the years.
Some people will have a diagnosis of dysautonomia. Their nerves are not communicating correctly. These symptoms can manifest themselves as problems with blood pressure and heart rate. Some will have a concurrent diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders. Some will also have Lyme Disease and/or thyroid problems. Others will tell us that they pass out for no reason or that their heart starts beating uncontrollably. Food gets stuck in their throat. The list of symptoms some people display seemingly goes on and on. Burning mouth syndrome, digestive disorders, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, headaches, and migraines. Where are all these problems coming from? For some people, the problem may arise from an underlying cervical or lumbar spinal instability leading to autonomic nervous system dysfunction.
Similar observations noted in the medical research
There is more attention being given to the idea that some type of musculoskeletal issue may be the cause of a myriad of neurologic-like, digestive-like, cardiac-like, and bladder-like disorders. There is an idea of these problems are not primary, meaning that your digestive problems are not being caused by the digestive system itself, but are secondary in nature. This means the digestive symptoms are being caused by something influencing the function of the digestive system, possibly nerve dysfunction. It is possibly cervical instability and compression of the spinal cord, arteries, veins, and nerves in the cervical spine.
A 2018 study from the Department of Internal Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Paul L. Foster School of Medicine offered these observations in The American Journal of the Medical Sciences. (1)
“Joint hypermobility is a common, primarily benign finding in the general population. However, in a subset of individuals, joint hypermobility causes a range of clinical problems mainly affecting the musculoskeletal system and, to a lesser extent, extra-articular disorders. Joint hypermobility often appears as a familial (Family) trait and is shared by several inherited connective tissue disorders, including the hypermobility subtype of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS) and benign joint hypermobility syndrome (BJHS/JHS). Although joint hypermobility has primarily been thought of as a rheumatological disorder, increasing evidence shows significant associations between both hEDS and BJHS with specific extra-articular disorders. To date, the strongest associations of these two conditions are with anxiety disorders, orthostatic tachycardia, various functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, and pelvic and bladder dysfunction.”
In this article and video, Ross Hauser, MD offers an explanation and understanding of autonomic nervous system dysfunction.
The autonomic ganglion – pressure on the nerves. Is this your problem?
Learning points and basic understanding:
- The autonomic ganglion is a cluster of nerve cell bodies.
- Their job is to send sensation signals to the central nervous system. (If you have numbness, tingling, unexplained or exaggerated pain, this may be a problem of bad information going back and forth through the autonomic ganglion.)
- Bad information and bad messages can be caused by cervical and spinal instability. How?
- The autonomic ganglia pass and run very close to the vertebrae of the spinal column.
- When the vertebrae are hypermobile, in other words, they are moving too much and unstable, they can press on nerves, stretch out nerves, compress the autonomic ganglion. These are the components of neurology and why you may be visiting a neurologist for a surgical consultation.
What are we seeing in this image?
We see how the nerves and the ganglia, (the ganglia are displayed by the arrows), run around, through, and in between the vertebrae of the spine. What you are seeing is the hard wiring of your nervous system and its communication system. If the spine is unstable, if pressure is exerting on the nerves and ganglia, the communication system starts “dropping calls,” the conversation then becomes garbled, hard to understand. These communication problems lead to symptoms, diseases, and a myriad of diagnoses.
This is what the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system do. When they are not functioning correctly, these are the problems you can have:
The autonomic nervous system is divided into two nervous systems. They counteract each other. One speeds you up, the other slows you down. It is the sympathetic nervous system that speeds you up. It is the parasympathetic nervous system that slows you down.
The sympathetic nervous system, in short, responds quickly to a stimulus. It is responsible for your fight or flight decision-making processes in times of stress. This does not only mean what do you do when there is a lion suddenly in front of you and you have to decide to fight or flee but it also means how you react in times of stress. This could be stress at the workplace, personal stress, or other things that could present emotion toil through aggravation or worry.
The sympathetic nervous system then decides how to regulate your “emotions,” and the ability to generate energy and power to fight the lion or the stress thrown upon you. When the danger or stress passes the parasympathetic nervous system “brings you back down.”
- The sympathetic nervous system controls pupil dilation to help you see better by allowing in more light to your eye to help you fight or flight. The parasympathetic nervous system restores proper pupil function when the stress passes.
- A malfunctioning Autonomic nervous system can lead to vision problems and pupil dilation. Please see our articles: Chronic Neck Pain and Blurred or Double Vision Problems and Oscillopsia caused by cervical spine instability and neck pain.
- The sympathetic nervous system controls heart rate. Forcing blood through your body to make sure you have enough oxygen. The parasympathetic nervous system slows down the heart rate and lowers the blood pressure when the stress passes.
- A malfunctioning Autonomic nervous system can lead to “cardiac” symptoms. Please see our articles: Can cervical spine instability cause heart palpitations and blood pressure problems? and Heart Rate Variability.
- The sympathetic nervous system controls energy flow to the digestive systems during times of flight/fight. It slows down digestion so the legs and arms can get the blood they need as a priority. The parasympathetic nervous system restarts the digestive system when stress passes.
- A malfunctioning Autonomic nervous system can lead to many digestive problems symptoms. Please see our article: Cervical spine instability as a cause of your digestive disorders.
Temporarily stopping the need to urinate
- The sympathetic nervous system activates and/or stops your need to urinate during a fight/flight situation. The parasympathetic nervous system restarts the bladder/kidney function.
- A malfunctioning Autonomic nervous system can lead to urinary problems and symptoms. Please see our article: Cervical spine problems, Vagus nerve compression, as cause urinary incontinence
Sweating to keep cool
- The sympathetic nervous system controls your body temperature during a fight/flight situation. It tries to keep you cool so you do not overheat. The parasympathetic nervous system restarts the proper sweating/cooling systems when the stress passes.
- A malfunctioning Autonomic nervous system can lead to sweating problems. Please see our article: Excessive Sweating – Hyperhidrosis. Are fixing upper cervical neck instability problems the missing treatment?
The problem of bad messaging is a problem of cervical and spinal ligament laxity.
For some people, when there are neurological problems that do not seem to have an answer, an answer may be found in cervical and spinal ligament laxity. This is the situation where the ligaments, the connective tissue that holds the vertebrae in the proper place have become weakened through degenerative disease or injury. For most, this problem occurs with degenerative wear and tear. The ligaments basically become stretched out.
What are we seeing in this image?
Here we have the lumbar spine. Lumbar spinal stability is seen as the vertebrae lined up in their proper position.
- In this image look at the L3 vertebrae. See how it is riding forward of L4? This is spinal instability caused by stretched-out ligaments at L3/L4. The L3 has slid forward on the L4.
- Now, look at the L4 vertebrae. See how it has slid forward of the L5 vertebrae? This is spinal instability caused by stretched-out ligaments at L4/L5.
Hurting the function of the autonomic nervous system.
Above we asked: What are we seeing in this image? For some, it may be the cause of many of your neurological symptoms. What you see here in the lumbar spine can occur equally in the cervical spine. This image could be the visualization of your digestive problems, urinary problems, concentration problems, heart rate, and blood pressure problems, all the symptoms and diagnoses mentioned above caused by spinal instability.
Are your problems related to Autonomic Nervous System Imbalances? How do we know?
We offer dynamic Autonomic Nervous System testing to try to understand and solve the challenges you may be facing because your nervous system is not working properly. While our main focus is an understanding of structural breakdown in the spine and its repair through Prolotherapy injections, explained below, we also help assess emotional or stressful problems. The testing is explained at length in our article: Determining the Cause(s) of Dysautonomia, Vagopathy, and Autonomic Nervous System Imbalances.
Non-surgical treatment – Cervical and Lumbar Spine Stability and Restoring Lordosis -Making a case for regeneration and repair of the spinal ligaments
Above we demonstrated these problems with images of the lumbar spine. In this section, we will use the cervical spine.
What are we seeing in this image?
When the natural curve of the spine is distorted, we can understand that ligament laxity is occurring. Again, the spinal ligaments are no longer strong enough to hold the vertebrae in their proper alignment.
Research on spinal instability and Prolotherapy
Caring Medical has published dozens of papers on Prolotherapy injections as a treatment in difficult to treat musculoskeletal disorders. Prolotherapy is an injection technique utilizing simple sugar or dextrose.
Published research papers and articles from our doctors at Caring Medical on low back pain
- Dextrose Prolotherapy for Unresolved Low Back Pain: A Retrospective Case Series Study
- This paper was published in the Journal of Prolotherapy. Hauser RA, Hauser MA. Dextrose prolotherapy for unresolved low back pain: a retrospective case series study. Journal of Prolotherapy. 2009;3:145-55.[Google Scholar]
Prolotherapy works to stabilize the ligaments of the spine allowing discs to get back into position and can even create space for a person who has lost space due to one or more degenerated discs. In Prolotherapy research from the doctors at Caring Medical, patients with more than four years of unresolved low back pain were shown to have had their pain improved, stiffness, range of motion, and quality of life improved, even 12 months subsequent to their last Prolotherapy session.
These articles will offer a more extensive explanation of the treatment:
- Non-surgical treatment options for lumbar spinal stenosis
- Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction Treatments – What can help you, what may not
- Sciatica and lumbar radiculopathy Prolotherapy treatments
- The evidence for an alternative to Spinal fusion surgery – Spinal ligament repair injections,
- Prolotherapy non-surgical treatment of a bulging or herniated disc
- Spondylolisthesis, Spondylolysis, Spondylisis. A problem of disc degeneration or ligament degeneration?
Research on cervical instability and Prolotherapy
We propose that in many cases of chronic neck pain, the cause may be underlying joint instability due to capsular ligament laxity. Currently, curative treatment options for this type of cervical instability are inconclusive and inadequate. Based on clinical studies and experience with patients who have visited our chronic pain clinic with complaints of chronic neck pain, we contend that prolotherapy offers a potentially curative treatment option for chronic neck pain related to capsular ligament laxity and underlying cervical instability.”
Actual Prolotherapy treatment
This video jumps to 1:05 where the actual treatment begins.
This patient is having C1-C2 areas treated. Ross Hauser, MD, is giving the injections.
Summary and contact us. Can we help you?
We hope you found this article informative and it helped answer many of the questions you may have surrounding your issues. If you would like to get more information specific to your challenges please email us: Get help and information from our Caring Medical staff
Brian Hutcheson, DC | Ross Hauser, MD | Danielle Steilen-Matias, PA-C
1 Botrus G, Baker O, Borrego E, Ngamdu KS, Teleb M, Martinez JL, Maldonado III G, Hussein AM, McCallum R. Spectrum of gastrointestinal manifestations in joint hypermobility syndromes. The American journal of the medical sciences. 2018 Jun 1;355(6):573-80. [Google Scholar]
This article was updated May 27, 2021