The Basics Polyvagal Theory and Chiropractic

Polyvagal Theory is a relatively new field of study in healthcare, and it represents another layer of Above-Down-Inside-Out healing here are Prior Lake Spinal Care.

Within a couple weeks, most people begin noticing an improvement in the symptoms that prompted them to begin their chiropractic care here. But was it merely the pain or symptom(s) that really caused them to start their chiropractic in the first place?

By the time new folks are halfway finished with page one of their intake forms, they realize (if they didn't already) that there has been a disconnect. A disconnect from themselves, others or something else.

See, most people circle at least two of the following on the line that says "Does your problem affect your: Sleep / Work / Daily Routine / Sitting / Driving".

Most people know that chiropractic is a wise drug-free approach to helping with various symptoms. They do not want to go the route of of pain medication, needle injections and muscle relaxers. Some have been told that they're going to need orthopedic surgery at some point and they want to delay it for as long as possible. Everyone's original motivation for starting care here at Prior Lake Spinal Care is a little different but, at the root, it's pretty much always related to a dis-connect in how they're able to get along at home or at work, and they see chiropractic as a means to helping them re-connect via better brain-to-body communication. All good...

Now, every day at work and home we must perform and do our best - both for ourselves and for those that count on us. This can present a "fake it 'til you make it" paradox that, if we're not careful, can disconnect us even further from WHY we get up and do what we gotta do.

Pain and health challenges have an emotional counterpart. Since the show must go on at the speed of business, or to the tempo of the toddler that needs a new diaper at the most inconvenient time, we have no choice but to act "as if" and tackle the next item on our to do list. This can go on for years.

For the person in pain, the more they do the more they hurt. Yet the to do list is always there...sometimes getting longer and longer.

Since our emotions are connected to our thoughts and actions and, since we need to carry out our mission each day at the office and/or at home, we can tend to "shut off" our emotions since the job has to get done no matter how we physically, emotionally or mentally feel.

The problem is that when we shut off those emotions it can be easy to get lost and disconnected with the highest priority things in life. We can forget why we get up each day and "push". We can easily forget what if feels like to be "pulled" and motivated or inspired to have breakthrough, continually unfold, make the most of our talents and trend upward and to the right in the areas of life we feel we are uniquely meant to excel in.

Polyvagal Theory says that we are always in one of three predominant emotional states or modes: social engagement, fight/flight, or "freeze".

Polyvagal is comprised of two parts, "poly" which means several and "vagus", which refers to the vagus nerves that exit the base of the skull, pipe down through the neck and then spread out to influence every tissue and organ all the way down to the first part of the large intestine. The vagus nerves play a major role in carrying out the survival mechanisms which help us to be resilient and overcome challenges - whether physical, mental, emotional, or social.

It was classically understood that someone is either in rest/digest mode OR fight/flight mode at any given moment in time. The classical sabre-tooth tiger example says that our brains are programmed to take a fight or take flight from a predator if we happen to be caught off guard. However, when encountering a dangerous situation in the wild, animals will often freeze momentarily, in hopes that the predator will not see them. They may make a fast run away, fight the other animal or sometimes even lie down and play dead.

Playing dead would be the freeze mode of polyvagal theory. It is thought that this is primarily regulated by the dorsal or "back" portion of the three main branches of the vagus nerves. It's okay to be in this mode for short term survival when encountering a physically dangerous situation like a predator in the wild, but if we're not careful we can stay in this mode even though there is no real physical threat or reason to stay there. Chronic freeze mode or activation of this section of the vagus nerves is related to a wide variety of health problems.

Polyvagal Theory is helpful because it tells us that our emotions are always in flux and that pain and other health challenges can make it easy to get lost in the "woods", masking over our emotions as a result of the pain, health challenge or other stressor that we've had to adapt to.

One application of Polyvagal Theory would be carefully controlling our breathing. If we're aware that we're not in the social engagement state of being, then we can pause and focus on our breathing. Unlike most other nerves in the body, the vagus nerves have a much higher percentage of body to brain signaling than brain to body. Therefore, breathing exercises can help to calm our minds down before beginning an important task. In a way, it's kind of like the baseball player coming to bat may take a deep breath to calm his nerves so he can focus all of his attention on the upcoming pitch. It's a bit more complicated than that, yet it's the same physiology of body to brain and THEN brain to body.

The chiropractic adjustments performed at Prior Lake Spinal Care help our brains better connect to our bodies so that we can adapt better in real time. For best results, a holistic (wholistic) approach to healing through careful introspective activities such as journaling, meditation practices and focused breathing are all helpful tools that can help with the recovery process central to your chiropractic care here. The good news is we have excellent resources to help you get back to experiencing breakthrough - not just beyond the pain, but also for helping you remember how to truly feel pulled even as you push from day to day toward the top of the mountain, whatever that may be for you.

We live our lives through our central nervous systems so proper brain to body communication is essential. Here, we do this not only by maximally correcting the alignment of your vertebrae, but also by helping you regain your momentum unto a brighter and better future. That's why Dr. Pietrek likes to say he helps fix spines and change minds.

For other resources on this topic, check out our Above-Down-Inside-Out Method for Approaching Mental, Social, and Spiritual Well-Being here: and to learn more about Polyvagal Theory by Stephen Porges visit here:


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