Have you ever experienced unexplained stomach pain? You haven’t eaten anything unusual. Your next step is to go to the doctor to find more answers. There are several different conditions that cause digestive distress. Most are manageable with lifestyle changes and others may require deeper intervention. What if you saw a specialist and all tests came back negative? What happens next? In this week’s blog, we will continue our journey through the body systems and explain how chiropractors can help with digestive distress.

What is Digestive Distress?

Digestive distress is a group of digestive disorders that are associated with lingering symptoms of constipation, bloating, reflux, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and cramping. These gastrointestinal symptoms can be caused by infections, food intolerances, food allergies or autoimmune diseases.

In this week’s blog, we will focus on the gastrointestinal issues that cause abdominal pain and upper GI tract pain. In next week’s blog, we will focus on bowel and bladder dysfunction.

Anatomy and Physiology of the Digestive System

Ten organs make up the digestive system. The Gastrointestinal (GI) tract composes seven of those organs: mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (colon), rectum, and anus. The biliary system composes the other three organs: liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. 

Together, the GI tract and biliary system make up the digestive system. The digestive system is uniquely constructed to do its job of turning food into nutrients and energy needed to survive. When it’s done with that, it handily packages solid waste, or stool, for disposal as bowel movement.

Connecting the Digestive System to the Nervous System

Realize that the anatomy and physiology of the digestive system we discussed is just a brief description to reach our point. Each organ involved with digestion has its own anatomical variations and physiological function that plays its part in successful digestion.

 When we look at the digestive system in relation to the nervous system, remember that the nervous system is why our organs function properly. If you recall our blog from a few weeks ago, we reviewed how the Autonomic Nervous System is responsible for organ function and showed a diagram of what nerves innervate different organs.

If you refer back to the diagram, you will notice that the digestive organs have nerve innervations coming from both the mid-lower thoracic spine and lumbar spine. The upper GI tract is innervated by the nerves of the mid-lower thoracic spine and the lower GI tract is innervated by the nerves of the lumbar spine When nerve interference occurs in these regions, if no treatment is performed, the organs begin to fail and further complications are likely.

How Can Chiropractors Manage Digestive Distress?

There are over a hundred different causes of digestive distress. Most are manageable with lifestyle changes, but there are some digestive conditions that require deeper intervention. Almost all digestive conditions cause bowel changes, but all cause some level of abdominal pain. Most GI tract problems that chiropractors help manage are lower GI tract problems that result in bowel changes. Most upper GI tract disorders cause heartburn, nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain, but realize so can lower GI problems.  Below are three common upper GI tract conditions that chiropractors can help manage. 

Digestive Ulcers

Digestive ulcers are usually caused by two different things. The first and most common is an infection from a bacteria or germ called H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori). This bacterium hurts the mucus that protects the lining of the stomach and the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum). Stomach acid then gets through to the lining.

The second cause is due to the consumption of too many NSAIDs such as aspirin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Advil, or Naproxen. Over time they can damage the mucus that protects the lining of your stomach. 

Ulcers are typically managed by taking antacids before eating or changing the diet to avoid foods with high acidic levels. 

There are two different types of digestive ulcers:

  1. Peptic Ulcer
    1. A peptic ulcer is a sore on the lining of the stomach that intensifies after eating a meal.
  2. Duodenal Ulcer
    1. A duodenal ulcer is a sore on the lining on the first part of the small intestine called the duodenum that intensifies on an empty stomach. 

Studies show that adjusting into the region of the nervous system involving the upper GI tract calms the stomach and small intestine and decreases the symptoms of digestive ulcers. 

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD is a digestive order that affects the ring of the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter. When the sphincter weakens, acid from the stomach leaks into the esophagus that causes symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, bad breath, difficulty breathing, etc. 

GERD is usually treated by taking different medications and changing diet and lifestyle factors. Studies also show that chiropractic treatment can help reduce GERD symptoms. The esophageal sphincter is a muscle. Muscles are activated by nerves. Regular adjustments to the nerves associated with the esophagus help strengthen the sphincter muscle.

Hiatal Hernia

A hiatal hernia is very similar to GERD because it causes the same symptoms; however, a hiatal hernia is when the upper part of the stomach bulges through the diaphragm and puts pressure on the esophagus.

Most cases of hiatal hernia don’t need treatment, but antacids and other medications help relieve symptoms. In rare cases, surgery is needed if symptoms are severe.

In chiropractic, there is a specific maneuver that helps open the space between the stomach and diaphragm and will take pressure off the esophagus. 


Realize that we are not gastroenterologists. If you have a true medical concern, please refer to your primary care physician and they can refer to the appropriate specialist from there. Once a diagnosis is confirmed we can co-manage your care and help remove nerve interference. 

If you have any questions about how we can help with certain digestive problems please call us at (724) 547-3377 and check out our website, www.drlarrywilkinsspinalcare.com for more information.

Yours in Health,

Larry E. Wilkins, D.C.

Brian M. Steinert, D.C.