Automatic Autonomics and Bowel Obstruction

The Autonomic nervous system controls a host of automatic responses and they control

your life.  There are 2 branches of the Autonomic Nervous System that have opposite

effects.  Control of many of the body automatic functions is achieved by balancing the

two systems.


Let’s look at stimulated Sympathetic Nerves, since they are faster and more dramatic. 

When a human or other mammal perceives a threat (such as suddenly seeing an open

mouth full of fangs), this cluster of things happens automatically: 


The adrenal glands release adrenaline which increases the heart rate and contraction

force.  The blood sugar raises and the muscles are given tremendous strength and energy.

The breathing rate and depth increase.  Muscles that tighten lung airways relax to reduce

breathing resistance.  All conscious thinking processes focus on the emergency, so other

types of thinking are nearly absent.   Usually logical reasoning vanishes.  The hairs on

the back of the neck may stand up.  The eye pupils enlarge because certain muscles relax

and other muscles tighten.  The skin becomes cold, damp and pale because the blood

vessels that feed the skin constrict.  The blood vessels to the deep muscles enlarge to

shunt the blood flow to feed the deep muscles that might be needed to run or fight. 


Everything that is not needed to run or fight is shut down to focus energy.  The bowels,

stomach and bladder wall muscles relax to increase storage volume, and the sphincter

muscles tighten to stop digestion, bowel movement and stop urination.  Secretions that

help digestion or lubricate the bowel walls are stopped.  The immune system is

suppressed.  Uterine contractions are stopped.  Erectile function vanishes.  Processes

that repair tissues, build proteins, store sugars and store fats are also stopped.


The Parasympathetic Nervous System does the opposite.  Muscles relax, the heart slows

down and we breathe more gently.  Digestion, healing, waste elimination, and immune

system activity are restored.  The uterus can contract so babies can be born and the penis

can erect so babies can be made.


This explains a lot of responses that we see but normally don’t understand.  It explains

why doctors use epinephrine or sympathetic stimulants to stimulate stopped hearts, stop

premature deliveries, suppress allergic reactions and open airways stop asthma attacks. 

It explains how a Grandmother can pick a car up to free her grandson.  It explains why

we better not get between a female animal and her offspring.  It explains why we get

constipated and have a knot in our stomach when we are stressed.  It also explains why

we feel tired and sleepy when we come home from a stressful job, and why we had so

few trips to the restroom during stressful jobs.  It also explains why male erections

vanish if some unexpected sound is heard or if he is stressed or worried about it. 

Erections vanish after climax because climax stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.


When we switch from a stressed to an unstressed situation, our body relaxes and the

Parasympathetic system goes into healing mode.  Forgive your spouse when they fall

asleep after work – it means that they have relaxed and are recovering from the days

stress.  It also explains why we are less logical and get lower scores on tests when

we are stressed.  And it explains why stimulants used for weight loss can increase

infections, increase irritability, cause constipation and may cause heart attacks. 


Here is the detailed list of what the Autonomic Nervous System controls:

•        Beta 1 receptors to effect heart rate and contractile force

•        Breakdown of glycogen in the liver to make glucose for quick energy

•        Resting tone of voluntary muscles and hair erection muscles                          

•        Voluntary muscle strength             

•        Depth and rate of breathing and diameter of airway passages in the lungs

•        Eye muscle groups that open and muscles that constrict eye pupils

•        Alpha effect on smooth muscle to constrict or dilate blood vessels

•        Alpha and beta 2 effect on G.I. tract muscles to start or stop digestion

•        Synthesis of proteins to allow or disallow growth and repair

•        Alpha 2 and beta 1 effects on  breaking down fats to make energy

•        Enhancement or unenhancement of learning and reasoning

•        Effects on gut and bladder wall muscle tone to store or move waste

•        Effects gut and bladder valve muscle tone to hold or release liquids

•        Alpha 2 effects on the GI tract to control secretions for digestion           

•        Immune system function to fight or to not to fight microbes

•        Allow or disallow ejaculation (a Sympathetic Nerve activation)

•        Allow or disallow penile erection (disallowed by Sympathetic Nerves)

•        Allow or disallow contraction of the uterus (labor)


From Osteopathic and physiologic viewpoints, it is easy to see how muscle spasms can

affect parts of this dual system control.  Since control is achieved by the balance of the

Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nerves, compressing one type of nerve shifts control to

the other type.   For example, if the upper neck muscles are tight enough, they can

squeeze the Vagus nerve enough that its blood supply becomes inadequate for the

nerve to function.  Without being aware of it, the person’s heart rate speeds up and the

digestion shuts down.  The muscles that seal off the stomach from the bowels and that

stop the bowels from emptying tighten up.  The wall muscles that make the stomach mix

food stop contracting.  The glands that secrete mucus in the bowels and stomach become

dry.  If this goes on for days, then everything comes to a halt and the abdomen hurts. All

of this can happen because tight muscles in the neck inhibited the Parasympathetic

Vagus Nerve which then allowed the Sympathetic Nerves to take full control.  In

adults, this is called Bowel Obstruction.  In babies, it is called Failure to Thrive. 

In either case it can be fatal.  This is not evaluated and not treated by most physicians,

But Osteopaths are trained to find and correct dysfunctions of the Autonomic Nervous

System as well as the voluntary nervous system.


My Grandfather had a Bowel Obstruction, and was being treated in the hospital.  Rather

than have an exploratory surgery with no known cause, he chose to die at home.  When I

relaxed his upper neck muscles, his system started up rapidly.  He got off his death bed

quickly to answer the call of nature.  A week later he bought a new car went on a vacation

in Canada.  Without that treatment he would have died.