A question I am frequently asked by patients and even other chiropractors is “Why do you focus on atlas chiropractic care?” My answer is based on a range of thoughts, experiences and science, and my personal objective with patients.
Upper Cervical Spine
The upper-cervical spine is often referred to by a various other names, such as the atlas and axis, the cranio-cervical junction, or more simply, the upper neck. These vertebrae are the first movable segments in the spine and interestingly the most moveable joints of the spine.
The increased movement is achieved by having multiple ligamentous attachments, rather that bony locks as seen in the rest of the spine. With this said, any engineer would agree that as we increase the mobility of a joint, we decrease the stability of that given joint and increase the risk that it will move out of place. Consequently, if any part of our spine is going to be more prone to misalignment, it is going to be the upper-cervical area.
So not only is the upper-cervical area more prone to misalignment, what happens when it becomes misaligned can have a significant effect on your body’s function. This is why we address this area exclusively.
How The Upper Cervical Spine Affects The Nervous System
Our nervous system is the body’s master control system, and all the messages from the nervous system to your body start at your brain. The nervous impulses pass through skull, though the atlas and into the spinal column. If the atlas is misaligned at the top of the spine, it will potentially affect all the messages from the brain to the rest of the body. You can think of this as a circuit breaker; when too much pressure is put on this area, the circuit breaker trips, and this affects everything connected. And this happens, regardless of how you feel.
Figure 1. Shows the correct alignment of the atlas bone on one side
Figure 2. Shows the misalignment of the atlas bone on the other side
Functions Of The Spine
One of the functions of the spine is to protect and house the nervous system. When the spine becomes misaligned it impacts the nerves at the same level as the misalignment. The upper-cervical spine houses a part of the nervous system called the brainstem. The brainstem regulates the automatic functions of the body such as heart rate, respiration, digestion, and the function of the immune system. This is why, when people start upper-cervical care, they often experience positive changes in these body systems.
How The Atlas Affects Joint Receptors
The upper-cervical spine, the atlas in particular, is also the most neurologically populated area of the spine when it comes to joint receptors. If this area becomes misaligned, the information feeding back to the brain can become distorted. This can lead to muscular contraction locally or distally, and can lead to pain and symptoms in the surrounding areas such as the neck and lower-back. Muscular contraction especially in the para-spinal musculature can cause changes to the structure of the spine such as lateral curvatures also known as scoliosis.
Figure 3. Picture shows pre and post X-rays of the lower back after upper cervical care. Reference: Upper Cervical Subluxation Complex, Kirk Eriksen
The final reason that the atlas has potentially the most significant impact on your health is to do with the hydrodynamics, the flow of blood and the fluid which surrounds the brain and spinal cord, the cerebral-spinal fluid (CSF).
When the upper-cervical spine becomes misaligned it has an effect on the CSF flow around the brain and spinal cord. This can lead to stasis (pooling or lack of circulation), meaning that the waste products cannot be removed and disposed of. This is critical, as the waste products that are left around the brain can cause damage and have been linked to various neurodegenerative disorders such as MS, Parkinson’s, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Interestingly, many of the patients who present with these problems have a history of previous neck traumas before developing these conditions. CTE is seen in many professional sports people who play high contact sports. (If you are interested, you can watch the film Concussion with Will Smith).
As you can see, the atlas and the upper-cervical spine play a huge role in our health and wellbeing, and this is why they are our focus at Top Chiropractic. We have a specific method of locating, analysing and correcting misalignments to the atlas and the upper-cervical spine, so that you can optimise your health and live your best life.