Chronically Living and how to make the most of it

Can a Nerve Give Me Some Pain Relief? with Melanie Weller

July 19, 2021 Kelsey, Melanie Weller Season 2 Episode 4
Chronically Living and how to make the most of it
Can a Nerve Give Me Some Pain Relief? with Melanie Weller
Show Notes Transcript

This week my guest, Melanie Weller, shares with us how she as a physical therapist treats the vagus nerve to give her patients both physical and emotional pain relief. This episode contains an experiential segment, to help get you started on this journey.
In this episode we discuss:

  • what the vagus nerve is 
  • how the vagus nerve affects autoimmune disease and chronic pain
  • storytelling to treat the vagus nerve
  • physical exercises to treat the vagus nerve

Trigger Warning: mentions of suicidal ideation.

Guest Bio:
Melanie Weller is a Medical Visionary with a paradigm-shifting process to access genius, health, and flow in your body and business using the vagus nerve as a portal to health, growth, and success. Melanie brings over 25 years of experience to her leading-edge systems where she leverages vagus nerve principles for visionary development, performance enhancement, and fine-tuning genius. Melanie is a Physical Therapist, Board-Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, Certified Athletic Trainer, and Certified Exercise Expert for Aging Adults, and co-authored a sleep course for continuing education credits for the American Physical Therapy Association.
Website: melanieweller.com
Instagram & Twitter: @embodyyourstar

Follow the show on Instagram @chronically.living_
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Kelsey Harris:

What if we could ease some of our chronic pain by tending to a nerve in our bodies that we don't often think of? If you're as interested in this question as I am, then tune in to hear my guest, a physical therapist who treats chronic pain through the vagus nerve. There is a trigger warning for this episode as there are some mentions of suicide. Alright, let's get started. I'm Kelsey Harris, a chronic illness warrior and a psychotherapist and training on chronically living and how to make the most of it, we're providing tangible ways to improve the well being of spoonies. So get ready to make the most out of your life, even with that pesky chronic illness.

Melanie Weller:

My name is Melanie Weller. I am a medical visionary and conventional terms, I am a physical therapist. And I've been doing that for 25 years. And I was an athletic trainer before I went to physical therapy school. So I've been working with people's bodies for a very long time. And my clinical expertise is in treating the vagus nerve as a pinched nerve. And what I have learned over the years in helping people with their stress and anxiety and pain, and really my background is in treating people that nobody has been able to figure out. And no matter where I lived, my husband was in the Navy for 20 years. And no matter where we lived, all of those people found me. So the and I'm eternally grateful for it, because it's given me some really great problem solving skills and to help me develop some really unique ways to understand the body and to have a conversation with people's bodies to really figure out what's happening.

Kelsey Harris:

Melanie is here today to tell us about the vagus nerve and how many chronic pain problems are affected by it. And thoughts can be helped when it's treated. Now, if you don't know what the vagus nerve is, or why it's important, that's okay, because she's going to share all of that with us. I didn't know what the vagus nerve was until I was halfway through my master's program, and people started talking about polyvagal theory and its relationship to mental health.

Melanie Weller:

What I've learned is that the vagus nerve is really awesome, the bridge between our stories and our bodies. And that the lack of a cohesive cosmology is really the foundation of the root of all of our ills. And when you can really bring story and meaning and start to connect dots in people's lives of what's happening, happening with them physically and emotionally and energetically, mood wise and whatnot, then, treatment becomes so much more efficient. And you can really help them see the light at the end of the tunnel and really start to make major transformation. So the vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve, which mate just means it's the 10th nerve that comes out of our brainstem, we have 12 that exit the brainstem in total. And it's the biggest part of our parasympathetic nervous system. So it counters our fight and flight responses. It gives us grace under pressure. It mediates inflammation, it mediates sweating, the vagus nerve. After it exits the base of the skull, it goes down into the throat and upper chest and it loops back up to innervate our vocal cords. I like to think of it as the nerve that allows us to speak our hearts because it does innovate innovate our hearts, but I love that it kind of passes down past the vocal cords towards the heart and then loops back up to integrate them. It innervates our digestive system. So that includes the muscles that help us move food through our digestive systems. We cannot absorb vitamin B 12 without our Vagus nerves. It's involved in digestive enzyme secretion, bile secretion. And the vagus nerve is in most of our organs. It's not in our adrenal glands, because that's really part of our fight and flight system. And it sends information primarily from our bodies up to our brains. I've described the motor parts of it in terms of the voice and heart and digestive system, but it sends a lot of sensory information up to our brains about what's happening with our bodies.

Kelsey Harris:

So it's super important obviously

Melanie Weller:

It's super important. It's really an everything and women innervates. The cervix and the research around it is phenomenal. And it's been so fun because I was introduced to treating the vagus nerve as a pinched nerve at the base of this Probably 20 to 23 years ago, something like that. And so, way before polyvagal theory was anywhere on anyone's radar, and I really loved it, because when it was sort of a thing when somebody wasn't getting better, I'd go Alright, well, what let me decompress your vagus nerve at the base of the skull and see what happens. And it would resolve patients knee problems and foot problems and just had these really far reaching effects. It uses the same neurotransmitter that our muscles do. So you get these really beautiful musculoskeletal responses. And as a PT, since it also helps with inflammation, I was getting really big return on investment for integrating some vagus nerve work into my practice. In the research, a lot of times what they'll do is put electrical stimulation on the vagus nerve. And it reverses the mitochondrial defects deep within ourselves that go with heart disease. So Wow. And just how well your vagus nerve functions in general has predictive value for how long patients with pancreatic cancer will live. And things like meditation and mindfulness make our Vagus nerves healthier.

Kelsey Harris:

meditation and mindfulness, two of my favorite things,

Melanie Weller:

it's a very good indicator of overall health because it's in so many different things. There's research that also shows when solar in space weather disrupts the electromagnetic field of the Earth, it's measurable in our Vegas nerves. Because the vagus nerve innervates, the heart it's going to be really involved in the our electromagnetic fields as well. And the extent to which it's disruptive depends on the strength of our interpersonal connections.

Kelsey Harris:

Okay, let's recap what we've learned so far. The vagus nerve is basically a part of all of our vital organs. It's extremely important for our overall health. External factors can affect the vagus nerve. And we should be using mindfulness. So what happens when our vagus nerve is not functioning well.

Melanie Weller:

So the measure for vagus nerve function is heart rate variability. So when your heart rate variability is higher, when it's stronger, you're going to have all of those positive effects when it's low. It's not going to be so good. And beyond being high and low, really, what they look for is coherence that it's organized. Like it can be high and disorganized. And that's not good. And low and flat or low and disorganized isn't good. Either. can imagine somebody who's anxious might have a very erratic heart rate variability, it graslie a little bit like an EKG or like, you know, just an up a sine wave up and down. And then somebody who's depressed might have a really flat, a heart rate variability, and yes, neither of those extremes are good. You want it to be coherent, you want it to be organized. And there are age match norms for the range, your optimal range.

Kelsey Harris:

So my question is, how exactly does this affect chronic pain and or chronic illness. Melanie mentioned pancreatic cancer. But as we see that the vagus nerve is involved in so many systems, it must be implicated in more than just that.

Melanie Weller:

Well, I treat a lot of anxiety and depression. So it's always very involved with that I've even had the most amazing experience I've ever had with a patient was one who had an acute onset of hallucinations, and we resolve 90% of its hallucinations in one session with Vegas nerve decompression. Wow. And I had no idea that I could do that I had never seen anyone like, you know, with that diagnosis before or not knowingly anyway. And it still completely blows me away. And he texted me later that night and said, Melanie, you saved my life and not in the cute kind of way because he was literally on the verge of suicide because he was in such a bad place. And when the vagus nerve is compressions, I've used my biomechanical tests to evaluate this and just to evaluate patients really head to toe over the years, I've learned that the more severely someone's rotation is locked up, the more severe their mental health situation is. So I've also been able to help pick up on when people are in suicide ideation and planning and get them appropriate referrals, you know, not only to take the weight off of their body just by getting them moving better and decompressing their Vegas nerve at multiple levels, but also to get them additional health because I'm not a conventional mental health professional, you know, like there's a need for counseling and other therapy in those situations as well.

Kelsey Harris:

One thing we know from research is that the majority of people with chronic illness have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. And I'm sure I'll get into this more in another episode. Here, Melanie explains how this impacts our vagus nerve.

Melanie Weller:

And we know through the research that we embody, that stress and trauma always affect the voice in the breath. And our vocal cords and our diaphragms are horizontally oriented in our bodies. And so our pelvic floors, and sometimes in very severe trauma, people will lose bowel or bladder control, right. And nobody gets stressed or traumatized and sashays down the hall, when they walk with really great arm swing, we all lock up when you rotation is the first thing that we give up. And so I find that rotation and that can be very subtle measurements that you have to look at, you have to be because we're all masters of compensation. So you have to be really good at picking out somebody's range of motion where it starts to go off track, or it starts to be a compensation versus a true measurement of the joint function itself. But I'm really passionate about the mental health aspect of this because I have been able to catch people that haven't otherwise been getting services and get them referred appropriately, I think is a really powerful screening tool. For professionals to have

Kelsey Harris:

mental health component check. But what about other conditions? So I have chronic pain from fibromyalgia and an autoimmune disease? How can working with the vagus nerve help someone like me,

Melanie Weller:

I've also had some really lovely results with people with autoimmune diseases with chronic pain, like especially long standing back pain, knee pain, headaches, I've had good results with pelvic pain, I had somebody not very long ago who had a uterine ablation, and she still had pain when she brought her right knee up to her chest. And that went away very quickly. And so I will say the applications for this are really broad, right? Yeah, you know, because I also they mean beyond like physical body stuff. I also work with entrepreneurs to help them up level their businesses and really look at their businesses as a body. And so there's really lots of broad applications. But most people that come to me have the entry doors, because they've got some sort of physical issue going on. And even if your condition isn't primarily a vagus nerve, problem, it giving it more space and getting your rotation better and opening up the body in that way. wipes the windshield clean, so that then you can see what's underneath it. Because when people have been around the block and seen multiple doctors and multiple physical therapists and multiple chiropractors and acupuncturists and whoever else, there's a lot going on. And so I find it's just a really nice, let's clean the windshield and figure out what's really, underneath.

Kelsey Harris:

Yeah, that makes sense. And I think that probably resonates with most of the listeners being like, Oh, yeah, I've been to like, a million doctors. And so yeah, I get we sing.

Melanie Weller:

I mean, getting your vagus nerve to function better will always make you feel better. If it doesn't make you feel better, it will, at the very least make you more flexible, okay, so that you're um, and stronger, it'll balance out your biomechanics, so you start to move better, and you have the option to move better, like I see back pain patients overwhelmingly, by the time they show up in my office, their hip flexors are so tight, they're stuck in a fetal position. But they're walking upright, and the amount of compensation they have to do to achieve that is enormous. So no wonder when they had an epidural injection, that it didn't work, because they were stuck in a fetal position and walking upright, and cheering the snot out of their spine. When you have pain, you've run out of compensations at the physical level. Hmm.

Kelsey Harris:

I'm interested in a bit more about the chronic pain piece, especially because there's such a huge link between chronic pain and mood. Here's what Melanie has to say.

Melanie Weller:

And you will not move normally. And if you don't have the option to do it, right. And when you continually move in a pattern that reinforces the dysfunction, you're just going to continue the dysfunction.

Kelsey Harris:

Mm hmm.

Melanie Weller:

Right. And the difference between acute subacute pain and chronic pain is that chronic pain gets locked into your limbic system, which is where our emotions are and all of the leading pain science experts We'll say they get really excited when somebody cries or gets angry when they explain pain to them. Because they know they're going to get better, they've had an emotional reaction to the explanation. It's the people with a flat effect that they worry about the most. And metaphor gets our it activates our sensory cortex, it activates the part where acute sub acute pain is and gets you out of your limbic system into the part of the brain where the pain can move out.

Kelsey Harris:

Next, Melanie tells us about the use of metaphor and how that can be helpful for treating the vagus nerve. For that part of the conversation, you'll have to head over to Patreon and sign up for the spoonie or warrior tier membership levels. Trust me, it's well worth it. I do appreciate a health care professional from another area of talking about dealing with emotional aspects.

Melanie Weller:

And so we're wired for story and symbols and our bodies via the vagus nerve. And also the nonverbal parts of our brain process information at 11 million bits per second, our verbal conscious aspects of our brain process information at 40 bits per second. So when you are in your body, and the psycho therapy literature confirms this, when you integrate a body based approach to mental health you get, that's where you really get meaningful change talk therapy by itself does not work. And I would say that based on that, it's because you're you're on that 40 bits per second wheel path versus on the 11 million bits per second superhighway. And so much of our communication, our movement and everything is non verbal. And we have to develop a language to have with our bodies, because by the time you end up in a physician's office for treatment, your body has been saying no, in probably no for a long time, and you haven't realized that. And so I do a lot of helping people connect with that and so that they can start using more yeses in their life, sir saying yes, more often because no, but just stops all the momentum. I use the golden rule of improv comedy. Yes. And just like yes, and even if it's Yes, this sucks, and it's gonna get better. Yeah, or Yes, this sucks. And I can make a different choice that it's, it's a yes. And conversation and as you keep moving towards Yes, and and really allowing your body to help you make those decisions, you know, and not to the exclusion of your mind. Because sometimes, and especially in, I'll say, from personal experience, especially when you've had a jolt to your system, sometimes your body's not going to give you really great information. Right? Yeah, your body will generally tell you the truth, unless you've just had a really hard fall, it might not, you know, or if it's in shock, you may not get the best information. But you know, you have to really combine all of that we tend to ignore intuitive feelings about things and really just go into our logic circuits. And we have to really learn to honor those intuitive feeling.

Kelsey Harris:

Melanie really uses the storytelling aspect of treating the vagus nerve because she's found it to be so powerful. I do want to point out that there is of course, physical aspect as she is a physical therapist. So let's talk about that.

Melanie Weller:

There is a physical aspect, right. And so actually, if you go to my website, MelanieWeller .com and sign up for the email list, it will email you a free vagus nerve decompression course to evaluate head to toe. So you can do very simple movements, like even just turning your head side to side to see if it's symmetrical or asymmetrical. giving yourself a hug and turning your shoulders side to side, you know, rotating just to see how much rotation you have. And there are very simple exercises that you can do. And if you want I can guide everybody through one right now. Okay, for anyone who's listening, do not multitask while you're doing this. This is not for doing all your driving, right? Or operating any kind of equipment. Don't do it. Even if you're chopping vegetables for dinner, please don't do it with you know, like the release, give it your full undivided attention. And this shouldn't cause anybody any pain. If you are hesitant to do any of what I'm describing. Don't do it. You can you're the beautiful thing about our brains is that they don't see imagining doing something and actually doing something as any different. So you could literally imagine doing it and get better in the research. When you imagine doing bicep curls. your bicep gets stronger. So interesting. So you literally can just imagine it. So don't put yourself through any pain, or you can just do pieces of these, these exercises are very, very forgiving in that way. So while you're sitting, sit, sit up nice and tall, a little bit towards the edge of your chair, you want to cross your left ankle in front of your right and give just a super gentle pressure between your ankles. And this is a technique really, for opening up the diaphragm decompressing the vagus nerve at that level, and all of your big mover muscles and your trunk attached to your diaphragm, basically. So if your diaphragm isn't right, nothing will be right. And it can tighten up your hip flexors, your shoulder muscles, it can create a lot of dysfunction in a lot of places. So this is often a very big bang for your buck. Exercise, you're going to take your right hand and put it across your body so that it's on the outside of your left thigh or as close to that as you can get. And they're going to take your left hand and put it behind your head. And I'm going to have you inhale for a count of five. And when you inhale, I want you to inhale into the backside of your heart. So into your middle back of your left shoulder blade area, to try to get your breath there. And then hold it for a count of eight if you can, and you can count fast, this is more about the ratio than it is about the actual number. And then exhale, like you're blowing up a balloon or blowing out a candle as long as you can. So purse your lips a little bit and give the air some resistance as you exhale. And do that two more times. And so this helps to decompress the vagus nerve on the backside of the heart, as well, by putting the breath there and a lot of anxiety. And chronic pain issues are really rooted in poor ribcage, mechanics that just because you're breathing doesn't mean you're doing it right. And what happens is that people will breathe overwhelmingly with the front of their ribs and leave with no movement on the backside. And they'll breathe at the top of their ribs with very little movement at the bottom. So it's all focused on the front and the top. And when as people do this, I will tell them about the South American proverb that says Your future is behind you propelling you forward. And your past is in front of you waiting for you to make peace with it and clear your way. And so as you breathe into the backside of your heart, that you're breathing in, to your future, breathing into the support, inviting the universe to guide you, you know, and that the universe or God or whatever, that you're the God of your understanding is has your back.

Kelsey Harris:

I liked the exercise, I felt good.

Melanie Weller:

Yeah, it's a great exercise to just if you like, helped a friend move furniture and you think oh, I'm gonna be really sore the next day or Zig when you should have zagged kind of thing, you know, you think you can kind of tweak something it's a really good exercise to, to get out of that as well.

Kelsey Harris:

Thank you for leading us through that and sharing that one with us. That's great.

Melanie Weller:

Oh, you're very welcome.

Kelsey Harris:

Melanie has a few last points on the vagus nerve. And what she does,

Melanie Weller:

well, I will say I work with people all over the world. So geography is not a limitation. I'm physically in New Orleans, Louisiana. But I do have clients all over the world. As you know, for the integrated energy medicine piece of it, which I've adapted to be able to kind of extrapolated my assessment techniques to I've developed an energetic version of my physical assessment techniques so that I can help assess people no matter where they are, and guide them through the self range of motion testing as well. I would say that for most of us, we don't know how good we can feel, hmm. We all really settle for much less than is then we have the potential to experience and your vagus nerve is really a key pathway to achieving more pleasure and more happiness, more peace, more grace, under pressure, all of those really lovely qualities that help us survive well. And and you know, and create good interpersonal connections and also even creativity, like just like I work sometimes with artists and performers and when you're in Vegas, nervous functioning better, like especially for vocal performers, that you know, keeping your voice health in order is really important. But also it helps just your creative flow, your inspiration, the ideas To drop in at a much bigger level so for people that are in like writer's block or something like that they can be really helpful as well.

Kelsey Harris:

So what are the top five songs that describe your life?

Melanie Weller:

I would say levitating by dua Lipa light of a clear blue sky by Dolly Parton raising long blue light by Lee fullback. I'm all into the into the blue light kind of things right now that's been a recurring message and beam in my life. So that's why I'm so I have a playlist of that. Hallelujah by Katy Lang. That's my favorite version and bitch by Meredith Brooks. Oh,

Kelsey Harris:

great song too. Awesome. What's one thing you can't go a day without doing?

Melanie Weller:

Oh, I love I feel well, I when I looked at this question ahead of time I my first thought was like, Oh, is it like, I shouldn't say meditation, but it does. I try to. I do meditate most days. But I could. But I can go a lot with days with that meditation. What I really love are Oracle cards. I think everybody should have a deck of cards just to draw a card and just to like, what's the energy just to get a message? You know, or have something to contemplate?

Kelsey Harris:

What's one thing you plan on doing with your life that you haven't yet?

Melanie Weller:

Oh, I plan on being a keynote speaker I'm getting ready to my book is going to be published before Christmas this year. And I definitely plan on doing lots of keynote, speaking and teaching all around the world.

Kelsey Harris:

Amazing. What's your book called?

Melanie Weller:

At the moment, it's called the bridge between your story and your body. But I'm not 100% sure that's going to be the final.

Kelsey Harris:

Okay, so I have to keep an eye out for keep an eye out. Describe your perfect day.

Melanie Weller:

Oh, my perfect day is I absolutely love getting up early in the morning. Like an hour or so before sunrise to meditate. Those like, couple of hours before the sun comes up are just so delicious to me. And I'm such a morning person that I love to get up and have a quiet time, go exercise, and then really sink into my day, whether I'm writing or working. Or I'll say my work really nourishes me and I'm well wired for that. So I don't do well, when I don't work for at least a little while like or there's that starts to wilt me a little bit. And I love having a big healthy Ayurvedic lunch and having dinner at senior citizen time about four or five o'clock and going to bed at like eight. That's my ideal.

Kelsey Harris:

Make sense if you get up really early.

Melanie Weller:

Yeah, I'm not. I'm it's difficult for me to be to do things late. I'm not naturally Well, I've never even as a young person, I'm just not naturally wired for that.

Kelsey Harris:

And then the last one is how do you inspire your patients to make the most of their lives? Oh,

Melanie Weller:

I think really, the storytelling is hugely inspirational and giving them the visual visualization, the Well, I'm going to give two answers to this one, I, I asked everybody what their soul dresses like to envision their soul and tell me what they're wearing. And that is a really transformative exercise for a lot of people, you know, and then we can work with that imagery, to integrate it into movement and adapt it as needed and, and evolve it. The other thing that I share a lot of my story, and my struggle is you know, and bringing it into, you know, and I do that in ways that I you know, where I'm not dumping on them, you know, but sharing through story, and what's possible is just so inspirational for people that really connects them, you know, like if you're, like really wired as a warrior and you're playing small, you know, like your, your body is going to have a reaction to that, you know, that's going to show that playing small is really going to show up in your life in certain ways. I just this morning, worked with somebody who loves being a leader and was really like that and has shrunk in the last few years. And when that pattern showed up in her body. And when I asked her, you know, I told her I said, Well, you know, we always have to dance with other people's energies but we never have to shrink and that just struck such a chord with her and connected all of these dots that she hadn't connected. And her physical issue is very much in a warrior archetype place in her body too. And so it like just brought it all together. And she had a very emotional reaction to it. And so that which was perfect, because that starts to move it. And so I think that really bringing at the end of the day, it's bringing all of myself to the table. You know, and not really separating. I know, we tend to leave our personal person at the door and just be the clinical self when we show up at the office. And every miraculous outcome I have ever had. And I've been fortunate to have a lot of them has been because I brought my clinical knowledge, my intuition and my whole being to the table with my clients.

Kelsey Harris:

That's amazing. Melanie, that's, this has been great. Where can the listeners find you?

Melanie Weller:

My website is Melanieweller.com. All of my social media is @embodyyour tar. And embodyyourstar.com wil take you to my website as wel .

Kelsey Harris:

Awesome. And I will link that all in the show notes as well. Thank you so much, Kelsey, this has been such a delight. This has been great. Thank you so much for coming on.

Melanie Weller:

Thank you.

Kelsey Harris:

I found it so interesting how the Vegas nerve is so connected to all of our systems, and yet I had never heard about having a treated before. I can also appreciate the use of both a cognitive approach through storytelling and emotional release as well as the physical aspects of doing specific exercises and stretches to help but let's take a few moments to reflect on our experiences here. What did you notice about yourself as you listen to what Melanie had to say? What thoughts and feelings came up for you? What are you now noticing about your note for me I noticed as I often do when I talk to others is that hope came up? I noticed now that my thoughts are on. How do I find someone in my area who does this. You can find Melanie's information down in the show. Please rate and review the show if you liked it and tag both of us on Instagram with your takeaways. You can support the show so that I can continue to bring it to you by following the Patreon link in the show notes. As always keep making the most of it. Special thanks to Nicole sicura for the original music and to charity Williams for original artwork.