Diagnosing stress

Diagnosing chronic stress from an irritated 10th cranial nerve

By Stanley Rosenberg

There are many health problems – physical, emotional and mental - which can be caused by an irritation of one of the 10th cranial nerve.

This nerve can be brought into a state of dysfunction by mechanical irritation. The nerves pass through the membrane covering the jugular foramen, a small opening in joint between the temporal and occipital bones. Misalignment of the bones or tension in the membrane can irritate the nerve sheath causing dysfunction.

Restoring optimal function of a cranial nerve is possible, but requires a properly trained, skilled therapist.

The function of the 10th cranial nerve (the vagal nerve)

This nerve has several different physiological functions. Generally, the vagal nerve is responsible for bringing about changes to the inner organs, which we associate with the relaxation response. If there is dysfunction of this nerve, the physiology of the client is locked into a stress response.

In addition to this function of relaxation, the 10th cranial nerve is also a motor nerve for several muscles at the back of the mouth and in the throat. One of these muscles, the levator palatine velli is visible in most people and can be used as a guide to determine if there is proper function of the 10th cranial nerve.

Chronic Stress is a widespread problem

I estimate that 1 out of 4 elementary school children are suffering from chronic stress.

Most likely, the cause of the problem in children is misalignment of the bones of the skull and neck from the birth process.

The number of people with chronic stress increases as people grow older. By the time people are 60, 1 out of 3 people are suffering from chronic stress from physical, mechanical causes.

This increase from childhood is due to the various traumas that we receive as well as the effect of worsening posture with aging. For example, many whiplash injuries result in post-traumatic stress.

Stress is one of the multiple cluster of factors causing heart disese, cancer, diabetes, asthma, allergy, weakened immune defense system, etc. I am sure that in the group of people with seriouis illness, or most frequently seeking help from medical practitioners, the percentage suffering from chronic stress is even higher than a cross-section of the population.

Chronic stress is a cause of many physical, emotional and mental problems

Here is a list of stress related symptoms. You can see that the list includes physical, emotional and mental symptoms.

  • Sore neck and shoulder muscles
  • Allergy
  • Anger
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Pains in the chest
  • Tightly clenched teeth
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Influenza
  • Irritation of the large intestine
  • Constipation
  • Extended periods of depression
  • Eye or facial tensions
  • Hyperventilation
  • Increase in drinking or smoking habits
  • Poor Digestion
  • Tendency to start to cry
  • Depression
  • Diarrhoea
  • Difficulty to agree
  • Difficulty to make a decision
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive daydreaming and fantasising
  • Excessive use of medicine with or without prescription
  • Excessive or unreasonable distrust of friends/colleagues
  • Uncalled for sweating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Many worries
  • Feelings of fear
  • Feeling "down"
  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Feeling of a lack of energy or heaviness
  • Lack of interest in everything
  • Feeling of being tense after exertion
  • General anxiety
  • Frequent accidents or injuries Frustration
  • Grinding teeth at night
  • Headache (tension and migraine)
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Heartburn
  • Haemorrhoids
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest for sex
  • Back pain
  • Minor infections
  • Clump in the throat
  • Menstruation pains
  • Forgetfulness
  • Nervous
  • Nightmares
  • Excessive eating
  • Ulcer
  • Restless
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Skin problems
  • Stomach problems
  • Tense / hard muscles
  • Often these problems are considered as separate issues.

Constipation is usually considered as a problem of the large intestine. But constipation might just as well be a problem with the irritation of the nerve controlling the function of the large intestine.

Being unable to sleep at night because of worry is usually considered as a psychological issue.

Inability to concentrate might be thought of as a lack of intellectual ability or as a sign of aging.

In fact, these seemingly unrelated health issues might all be coming from one and the same source: stress.

Here is a precise, quick way to determine if a client has chronic stress arising from muscular-skeletal problems, caused by irritation of the 10th cranial nerve.

All it takes to test a client for chronic stress from physical causes is a small flashlight and 15 seconds.

Benefits of testing

If this test shows that they are suffering from chronic stress, it can indicate the importance of finding the source of the stress and treating that, rather than looking for ways to treat the individual symptoms.

In therapy responses of a chronically stressed client will most likely deviate from what you expect in terms of achieving successful outcomes. Their ability to make progress with you might be limited in ways that they themselves cannot control. There is a strong possibility that you will be unable to elicit the response that you want verbally, until the dysfunction has been addressed physically.

You will probably find that most of your “difficult” clients are suffering from chronic stress.

How to test

Ask your client to open their mouth as widely as is comfortable, so that you can see the back of their soft palate. (The soft palate is the back of the roof of the mouth.) It is helpful to use a small flashlight to allow you to see the back of their throat. Ask them to say, ”Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.”
(If your client has a hard time opening their mouth wide enough for you to see, you might ask them to start to open their jaw by pushing it forward first and then opening it afterwards.)

If there is normal function of the 10th cranial nerve, then that part of the soft palate, which is furthest to the back next to the uvula, will lift up on both sides when the person says ”Ahhhhhhhhhhhh”.

If there is an impulse on only one side, that side will lift up higher and distinctly. It may draw the other side partly up, but there is a noticeable difference between the side with the impulse and the side being dragged along.

A lack of clear impulse on one side indicates dysfunction of the 10th cranial nerve on that side which does not come up. The cause is most likely irritation of the nerve where it exits the base of the skull through an opening, which is called the jugular foramen.


To correct irritation of the 10th cranial nerve usually takes a skilled cranial osteopath, a cranio-sacral therapist, physical therapist, or a chiropractor trained in Sacro-Occipital Technique. It is important to evaluate the skill level of the practitioner you use in terms their ability to restore proper function of the 10th cranial nerve, which you can see the next time you look at your client’s soft palate.

Many practitioners of the various therapies might consider themselves as skilled, but may not be able to do the job that you require. The better the practitioner, the less time it will take to bring about the desired changes.