Structure dictates function. Chiropractic is the union of the two.
The most delicate region of the human spine is where the head meets the neck. This is due to the fact that over half of the movement in the neck occurs between these joints, which have no discs and no interlocking joints, unlike the rest of the spine. This makes them more susceptible for misalignment. When the top vertebra in the neck (Atlas) is misaligned with the base of the skull this causes stress and altered nerve flow from the brain and can create postural distortions and widespread dysfunction in the body.
While this is the most delicate region of the spine, it also has the greatest impact on the overall function of the human body, mostly through its relationship with the central nerve system. Every nerve that travels down the spinal cord must pass through this fragile ring-shaped vertebra called the Atlas!
The body has innate reflexes that help govern its function without our conscious input. One of these is the “eye-righting” reflex. This ensures that our eyes stay level to the horizon. When one has a misalignment between the Atlas and the skull, this puts the head on a tilt and unlevels the eyes. The reflex will contract muscles and twist the body into abnormal positions in order to compensate for this misalignment and level the eyes with the horizon. This can cause all sorts of dysfunction in the body, often manifesting as a hip or knee wearing out on one side, sciatica down a leg, nerve pain down an arm, etc.
This region is intimately related to the brain stem, the part of the nerve system responsible for most of the automatic functions of the body, especially the transition between states of “fight or flight” and “rest, digest, and heal,” the body’s homeostatic balance, and even regulation of hormones. Neurologic dysfunction related to this area often leaves people in this stress-response state, not allowing them to enter “rest, digest and heal,” thus the body struggles to repair and recover. We can observe alterations in heart rate/blood pressure, sleep, mood, immune function, digestion, posture/balance and cranial nerves related to misalignments between the head and neck.
Another major factor that needs to be considered in this conversation is fluid dynamics in the upper cervical region. The central nerve system (brain, brain stem, and spinal cord) is surrounded by and suspended in what is called cerebral-spinal-fluid, or CSF. CSF, driven by our respiration, pumps all around the central nerve system, providing it with vital nutrients and removing toxins and waste. In addition to CSF, blood vessels travel intimately past this region, delivering blood to and from the head. Recent research in this field has observed the the effects of misalignment in this area on functional MRI. It was found that misalignments can occlude the opening these fluids should be flowing through, not allowing the fluids to reach their destination, therefore the central nerve system would not be receiving proper levels of nutrients, and the head and brain may not have adequate blood supply. Reduction of these upper cervical misalignments have shown the restoration of the normal fluid dynamics and function to this area, which can have huge implications for overall wellness but especially in regards to neuro-degenerative disorders which plague our community in record numbers.
Within the CSF, the central nerve system is suspended by connective tissue called dentate ligaments. There are pairs up and down the spine that anchor the cord to the vertebrae. Since nerves are mostly soft fatty tissue, small misalignments, especially in the upper neck, can put pressure on the brain stem and cord through these ligaments. It only takes the weight of a dime to alter the nerve signal, so a little pressure can cause a lot of dysfunction that can manifest as postural distortion, pain syndromes as mentioned earlier or fibromyalgia like symptoms.
How did I get this way?
The misalignment is the result of one or more past injuries. Injuries can often be traced all the way back to childhood: Accidentally hitting ones head, a tumble down the steps, the fall off the bike, play structure, or backyard tree. Or maybe it was that teenage sports injury or car accident? Reflect back and you’ll probably come up with a few possibilities of your own. Many misalignments take place during the birth process itself which makes sense if one considers the forces the mother and especially the baby go through.
Regardless of the cause, ninety-five out of a hundred people are left with neck misalignment and posture distortion by the time they reach adulthood. After the initial pain of an injury subsides, upper neck misalignment can remain pain-free for years until a more recent injury occurs or body imbalance finally takes its toll in the form of degenerative disc disease, arthritis and/or stenosis.
How does this affect my health?
The brain and nervous system controls and regulates every function of the body, most of which we don’t consciously think about, such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, etc. That is why the nervous system is the very first body part to develop in the mother’s womb. To live in complete health, the spine must protect the nervous system so that every cell in the body is 100% connected to the brain. Injury and damage to the spine itself interrupts the flow of energy to and from the brain. The common term for this nerve stress caused by misalignment of the spine is subluxation. As stated earlier, the upper neck is especially vulnerable to injury and subluxation. Combined with the fact that the brainstem passes through the first cervical vertebra, problems here tend to have a more damaging effect on the body.
Misalignment of the spine can place direct tension on the spinal cord and/or the delicate nerves that exit between each vertebrae of the spine. As a result, any body part served by these nerves that loses its communication to and from the brain will not function properly. For example, if the nerves that supply the intestines are stressed, problems such as indigestion, malabsorption, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas can occur.
Body imbalance creates an ongoing structural and neurological stress to the body. The body responds to stress by activating the the stress response through the sympathetic nerve system. Long-term sympathetic nervous system dominance has been proven suppress the immune system. In other words, your immune system doesn’t work as well when the body is under long-term stress and imbalance.
Long standing imbalance and dysfunction in the body causes premature aging and degeneration of the spine itself. Arthritis is the more common term for this wear and tear. As spinal degeneration becomes advanced, the vertebrae themselves encroach upon the spinal nerves , compromising their ability to transmit communication to and from the brain. This result is degenerative disc disease or stenosis.
What does this have to do with chiropractic?
Chiropractors are the only professionals on the earth that are trained to detect and correct spinal misalignments causing neurologic dysfunction (Subluxation). Doctors of Chiropractic perform specific neurologic examinations to detect the location and effect of the misalignment on the function of the body. Chiropractors identify exactly how that bone is disoriented in space in order to determine the appropriate direction that a corrective force would need to be in to replace that segment. Once the subluxation is identified, the chiropractor delivers a specific adjustment to replace the misaligned segment, removing tension from the nerve system to allow the body to function and recover as it was designed to do. Chiropractic is based on universal principals, one being that the innate healing ability of the body needs no help, just no interference. Doctors of chiropractic do not treat conditions or claim to have the cure for any disease. Rather, we detect and correct interference to the natural nerve function of the body and remove it with a specific chiropractic adjustment. Our goal is not to crack joints or fix back pain. Our goal is to remove interference of proper nerve function and allow all systems of the body to function at their peak potential, leading to a happier and healthier you.
Have you and your loved ones been checked?
Drs. Pascal would love to address any questions or concerns. We are here to help and educate, if anyone would like additional information or our sources, please don't hesitate to reach out by phone, email, or social media. Have a great day!
Image credit: Keith Wassung Media, mymisalignment.com