How your gut works and the connection to your pain, mood, and athletic performance.

Danh NgoGut Health, Holistic Medicine DivisionLeave a Comment

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Your gut health has been linked to pain, mood, and how well you can tap into your athletic potential. If you are a grandparent that has to like to travel, take care of your grandchildren or desire to stay mobile and active, your gut health has been validated as a source of pain that feels like arthritis. Stiffness? Achy lower back or neck?

As a Sports Medicine Physical Therapist, we have been successful in helping many feel better as we combine gut health solutions alongside a comprehensive rehabilitation program for diagnosis including disc herniations, spinal stenosis, rotator cuff tears, hip and knee arthritis, hip labral tears, plantar fasciitis, and many more.

The digestive system works loosely like a washing machine. A washing machine uses physical agitation to loosen dirt, fluid to soften it, and detergent chemicals to complete the breakdown.

Our digestive system uses two methods to help move the food towards the small intestines. There are power waves and muscle contraction called peristalsis to move our food through our body. The movement is strong enough to crack a walnut to breakdown our food. The contraction is strong enough that we can still digest while standing upside down.

The time it takes to move our food depends on the type of food. An example is that fatty or complex carbohydrates take longer to process. The fluids and detergents of our digestive systems include the enzymes within our saliva, pancreas, liver and stomach acid. The stomach acid is as strong as battery acid to further breakdown the food we eat.

Our gut has an additional tool to ensure we don’t leave any undigested food trapped within the stomach or intestine walls. The migrating motor complex is another type of pressure waves that many call the “housekeeper” of your gut. The goal is to sweep undigested food, undissolved pharmaceutical remnants, and undesirable microbes from your esophagus to your rectum. This happens 60-90 minutes after you eat food. The majority of this time happens during sleep. The pressure waves stop the moment you eat food. The migrating motor complex is one reason why there are many health and longevity benefits of not snacking constantly or by doing an intermittent fast.


Your saliva is the first part of carbohydrate digestion. The moment you think of food, your mouth produces saliva. Your thought helps with digestion! One important factor in helping you to have a good head start with food digestion is to chew your food well. The burden to your stomach, intestines, gall bladder, pancreas, and liver will be eased when you chew your food. The hardest work of breaking down your food into bits will be out of the way. You are starting your digestion at a disadvantage if you have a dry mouth as fewer enzymes from your saliva are not breaking down the food into smaller particles. This leads to possible chronic health conditions.

The duodenum is where the mixture of alkaline fluid, bile and pancreatic enzymes play a role in preparation for nutrient absorption that will happen within the small intestine. This is why it is important to chew our food and have a healthy liver, stomach and pancreas. A weaker or dysfunctional liver, stomach, duodenum, or pancreas will lead to partially undigested food to enter the small intestine.

Your bile from your liver and gall bladder is for fat digestion. On a quick side tangent, modern society overburdens our liver and gall bladder. Your liver has over 2000+ roles and one important role is in cleansing our body of toxins. If you eat a high “bad” fat diet aka Standard American Diet (SAD), you are asking your liver to become tired, overworked and low on energy. This is similar to a healthy teenager to have 6 intense coursework, play sports, music, and housework. When this scenario is dragged out, it will be a matter of time before the acne-prone, sleep deprived, and under-nourished teenager gets burned out. As a quick summary tip of this one paragraph, a liver living in a modern world needs spring filtered water and a diet without “bad” fats like canola, sunflower, safflower, and other vegetable oil.

Your pancreas produces digestive enzymes such as lipase, amylase, and protease. On average patients need a minimum of between 200-250,000 units of lipase/day to avoid symptoms of malabsorption. The mixture helps with a further breakdown of fat, proteins, and carbohydrates.

A condition called SIBO, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, can develop and result in numerous wide-spread symptoms. As you can understand from our first article, our gut has a connection to your endocrine or hormonal system, brain, and cardiovascular health. SIBO sufferers have symptoms that include all of these systems. A low-grade inflammation within our organs and bloodstream will lead to chronic pain that won’t go away, regardless of how many stretches or foam roller you do. You cannot exercise more in hopes that you will feel better.

Your small intestine has thin walls so there can be a rich blood supply. As we wrote in our other articles, the thin wall is how the mind-gut, mind-body, and gut-immune axis can communicate and have a whole body response via the blood stream. Again, the blood is filtered via the liver for toxin removal.

The last phase of digestion happens at the large intestine which is similar to the drainage cycle. The large intestine begins to solidify the waste to be eliminated. There is a sharp crease where the small intestine and large intestine connect called iliocecal valve. The sharp crease is designed to not mix the two functions of absorption and drainage. The digested food is slowed down and can get trapped around the cecum and ileocecal valve. Infection and inflammation tend to happen here, which the appendix is strategically located to help buffer the higher risk of bacterial overgrowth.

This is a good time to mention the parietal peritoneum (outer layer), visceral peritoneum (inner layer), and greater omentum. These are three sheaths (think of it like blankets) that cover the majority of the digestive system. The peritoneum helps to absorb shock and buffer any unexpected (or expected if you are an MMA athlete) forces. Our organs are important for our survival. The peritoneum’s role is to help our organs not take the shock.

A peritoneal dysfunction is a source of tension that causes organs to be “sticky” upon other surrounding tissues and become dehydrated. The reasons for having a peritoneal dysfunction include physical trauma like a car accident, playing football and taking a hit to the stomach, or having low-grade infection or inflammation. Again, drinking water and nutrient-rich diet will minimize your risk of this.

Your organs, including your heart, lungs, stomach, liver, and others cannot tell you when there is something wrong like a muscle or joint. Your organs communicate to you through distinct emotions and musculoskeletal tension patterns. Tension pattern develops into a possible sensation of pain and suffering. If you have a heart issue, your left arm and jaw may feel achy to speak for the heart. In a kidney issue, your side flanks become tight. If you have a liver that is overworked, you become more moody and angry. If you have a bladder sensitivity, you become more worried and less confident.

How do you know if you have a muscle or underlying overworked organ? Our suggestion is to address the nagging muscle and joint with a solid and comprehensive rehab muscle and joint recovery protocol. If your discomfort does not go away after 8-12 weeks, then you may have an organ dysfunction. Muscle adaptation should happen and allow you to achieve your goals within that time. If it is truly a muscle injury, you should feel better with a comprehensive and precise muscle rehabilitation protocol.

If you have gut symptoms or have unresolved nagging joint and muscle problems and you live near the city of Long Beach, California, click on the green button below to save your FREE consultation with Dr Danh Ngo.

Share this article with any loved ones or friends that you know who is dealing with unresolved gut or musculoskeletal problems.


Dr Danh Ngo

Board Certified Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialist

Doctor in Physical Therapy

ADAPT Functional Medicine

Mind-Body Health Result Coach

ReVITALize Rehab Club

Long Beach, CA

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