Foot Tappers

by Patrick Nemechek, D.O. on September 2, 2016

FootTappers_BlogSome people do not hold still, they are foot tappers.  Do you know what causes this?  Surprisingly, foot tapping may be a sign of an injured nervous system and it can be significant to overall health.

You will notice foot tappers at times when they should be still.  This may be during meetings at work, when they are in restaurants or coffee shops, or during church or school.

Foot tappers have feet or legs that are incessantly bouncing, sometimes at fast rates, and they are often unaware they are doing it.  When asked about this behavior many will report they are either high energy or nervous people, that they feel uncomfortable if they do not move, or they have always been that way.  They might also say they were born that way.

But how many newborns have you ever seen who are born as foot tappers unable to lay still?

Constantly moving people are often having difficulty delivering enough blood and oxygen to their brains.  In order to improve oxygen delivery their brain learned that moving muscles improves blood circulation and pressure to the brain, which makes them feel better.

Moving muscles to improve oxygen delivery can also take the form of fidgeting, restless legs, the need to get up and walk around, or pacing while talking on the phone.

Individuals with low brain oxygen might become habitual runners because their minds wake up and function best during a run due to pumping adequate levels of oxygen to the brain.  But just like foot tappers, the runner’s boost of blood circulation and pressure to the brain is temporary.

The most common cause for developing difficulty delivering enough blood and oxygen to the brain is silent damage to the Autonomic Nervous System (Autonomics).  This is the portion of the nervous system that regulates the proper delivery of blood and oxygen to the brain.

The Autonomics may be injured by physical head injuries (concussions, car wrecks), mild sub-concussive head traumas (heading soccer balls), emotional traumas such as bullying or death of a loved one, or chemical inflammation from excessive reactions to vaccines or infections.

The Autonomics may also be injured in women as a result of sudden omega-3 fatty acid depletion during the third trimester of pregnancy or the trauma of childbirth.

Once injured, the Autonomics have difficulty pushing blood upwards against the force of gravity into the head.  This results in suboptimal oxygen delivery and the brain does not function as well.  Low oxygen delivery causes symptoms such as lightheadedness, fatigue, anxiety, and headaches.

Many foot tappers feel fine and are otherwise healthy, but they may simply be in the early stages of Autonomic Dysfunction (also called “Dysautonomia”).  There are five stages in Autonomic Dysfunction and the first two stages do not have noticeable symptoms.

It is only in the third stage of Autonomic Dysfunction that people start to experience symptoms that affect their daily quality of life, like gastrointestinal trouble, sleep trouble, headaches, temperature regulation problems, or dizziness.

In the fourth stage of Autonomic Dysfunction people may develop Heart Rate Variability (HRV) issues.  People with elevated HRV have an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation or heart flutter.  People with low HRV have an increased risk of widespread organ and metabolic dysfunction, which leaves them with little reserves to bounce back from illnesses or respond to therapies.

And in the fifth stage of Autonomic Dysfunction people may develop Cardiac Autonomic Neuropathy which has a 50% mortality rate in 5 years, the same survival rate as advanced cancers.

But many people have never heard of the Autonomic Nervous System, nor do they understand how it controls many of their basic life functions.

The brain uses the Autonomic Nervous System to coordinate and control the organs and systems such as our heart, kidneys, hormones, digestion, immune system, and blood pressure.  The Autonomic Nervous System has two main branches.

There is the Sympathetic branch (“fight or flight”), and the Parasympathetic branch (“rest and digest”).  The two branches work together like a seesaw, constantly balancing each other in response to stress that is placed on the body throughout the day.

When we stand up from a chair, for example, the Sympathetic Autonomic branch increases activation, and causes the arteries and veins in the legs to constrict.  This forces blood upward against the forces of gravity while the Parasympathetic Autonomic branch simultaneously relaxes.  When the Autonomic seesaw functions perfectly, the blood flows into the brain and organs correctly and the person feels perfectly normal.

When the Autonomic seesaw is no longer working perfectly, the blood flow into the brain is inadequate, and person may feel uncomfortable or have the impulse to fidget.  This is when the person will start tapping their feet or bouncing their leg.

They have an inappropriate response to the gravitational challenge of sitting upright.  If the gravitational challenge continues after standing and they feel dizzy or lightheaded, that is called Orthostatic Dysfunction and it is also an Autonomic Nervous System problem.

The significance of foot tapping to your overall health is that underlying Autonomic damage is reversible and when it is restored the foot tapping stops.  But left untreated it may lead to severe anxiety, migraine headaches, ADD, chronic fatigue, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, depression, and may even increases the risk of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease.

Damage to the Autonomic Nervous System is too subtle to be seen on an MRI or a CT scan.  The damage and the balance between the two branches of the Autonomic Nervous System is measured through a noninvasive testing process called spectral analysis which was first made commercially available to doctors in 2004.  I have been performing Autonomic analysis testing with this technology since 2006 to pinpoint the different patterns and stages of Autonomic Dysfunction.

In basic primary care terms, Autonomic monitoring helps me identify the early changes in brain function often present in non-symptomatic patients.  This gives me the opportunity to reverse the damage and prevent future complications such as headaches, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, diabetes, or depression.

In patients already experiencing symptoms of Autonomic Dysfunction or who have already been diagnosed with a chronic disease, Autonomic monitoring guides the development of an individualized treatment regimen that will ultimately reverse the brain injury, halt their symptoms, lower their risk of premature death, improve their response to therapies, and help them get off of their medications that mask their underlying symptoms but do nothing to cure their problems.

The two opposite Autonomic branches should work together simultaneously and in balance, which is called sympathovagal balance.  Sympathovagal balance between branches is not just important for someone to feel better in the short term, sympathovagal balance is necessary for a long and healthy life.

While our Autonomic functioning will slowly decline as we age, some diseases accelerate the aging effect on the Autonomics.  Diabetes, for example, can make some people reach the advanced stages of Autonomic Dysfunction nearly two decades earlier than others their age.  Restoring Autonomic balance is important to restore their normal rate of aging.

I am a classically trained internal medicine physician from UCLA and my private office is located in Phoenix, Arizona. My research background has been focused on the Autonomic Nervous System, brain metabolism, and metabolic inflammation.

I now use this training and experience to reverse disease by utilizing all available scientific tools to induce the nervous system and organs to repair themselves by normalizing inflammation control mechanisms, inducing natural stem cell production, and by electro modulation of the vagus nerve.

For more information on Autonomic Nervous System recovery you may call my office at 623-208-4226 or read other posts on

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Just remember that foot tapping is all about the brain, not about the feet.  And then see if you can sit still.

© 2016. Dr. Patrick M. Nemechek and Jean R. Nemechek. All Rights Reserved.


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