Heart rate variability (HRV) is the time interval between each heartbeat. It is not simply changes in heart rate overall but a measurement of beat to beat variability. HRV monitoring is a helpful method of understanding how your nervous system responds to stressors in your environment.
How HRV Relates to Pain
According to a study published in Brain Sciences, HRV monitoring helps to measure how the body reacts to pain. Your HRV is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is responsible for automatically regulating various functions, including heart rate, digestion, and blood pressure. The ANS has two main divisions:
- the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response
- the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – responsible for the “rest-and-digest” response
When you experience pain, your SNS is activated to help you deal with the threat, resulting in an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. However, if the SNS is constantly activated, it can lead to chronic stress and anxiety, which can make the pain worse. The PNS is responsible for counteracting the effects of the SNS and helping the body to relax. With HRV monitoring, you can better understand how your SNS and PNS are working together to respond to pain.
A high HRV indicates that the two systems are in balance, while a low HRV indicates that the two systems are out of balance. When the SNS and PNS are out of balance, it can lead to various health problems, including pain.
Vagus Stimulation to Increase HRV
The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex nerve in the human body. It extends from the brainstem all the way down to the abdomen and is involved in many vital functions, including regulating HRV. The nerve is crucial in informing your body that everything will be fine. When stimulated, the vagus activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and basically acts as a stress-reduction button.
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a therapy that uses electrical impulses to stimulate the vagus nerve. This stimulation can help to relieve pain by reducing inflammation and modulating the autonomic nervous system. It has also been found to be effective in treating various conditions, including epilepsy, depression, and chronic pain.
Does Your HRV Indicate a Damaged Nervous System?
In general, the higher your HRV is the better. While HRV is not a direct measurement of your autonomic nervous system, it can indirectly indicate its current state. When you are under parasympathetic control, the HRV will be elevated and when it is low, it suggests sympathetic nervous system control.
Pain and HRV Monitoring in Irving, TX
If you are living with chronic pain, HRV monitoring can be a helpful tool in managing your symptoms. HRV monitoring can help identify when your nervous system is out of balance and causing health problems such as pain.
At Southwest Pain Management, we offer a variety of pain management services, including vagus stimulation and ANS testing. If you are interested in treating chronic pain and improving your HRV, contact us today to schedule an appointment.