by Kelly Harrigan
Can your Atlas vertebra bear the weight of your world? Atlas was the handsome mythological gentleman who was slotted to bear the weight of the world upon his broad shoulders. Forever. Just like this myth, the first cervical vertebrae in your spine, your atlas vertebra, was destined since birth to carry the entire weight of your head upon your shoulders.
Sticks and Stones may break my bones . . .
If not broken, they might be slightly out of whack, like your atlas. Whiplash trauma, TBIs, recurring migraines and headaches, all produce chronic complaints. You may have seen specialist after specialist, who tells you your symptoms are all in your head (irony), yet the reality is your atlas vertebra, otherwise known as C1, plays a primary role in your spine and causes a slew of mental and physical symptoms because it is highly susceptible to misalignment from things like whiplash, trauma, or even anesthetic intubation.
Misalignment of the atlas vertebra isn’t the first diagnosis that pops out of the traditional medical bag. In fact, it can remain undiagnosed for years. Despite MRIs and X-rays, a slightly out of whack atlas doesn’t show up on these diagnostic tools. Further, it may not be something that comes to your physician’s mind as the resulting symptoms are common with TBI and other disorders. However, a slight misalignment cascades into an avalanche of negative effects on your musculoskeletal system, and the parasympathetic and circulatory systems, causing further dysfunction and imbalance over time. A misaligned atlas has reduced passage at the base of your cranium for electrochemical impulses, resulting in dysfunctional communication between your brain and your body, leading to neurological deficits. As you know, if your body is not able to function properly serious health problems may arise and your quality of life may feel compromised.
The tipping point . . .
Think of your atlas as the balance point on the scales of justice maintaining a proper equilibrium. Any shifting unbalances the weights, causing the scales to list to one side. That’s what happens when your two-ounce atlas vertebra shifts, causing your head, which weighs about ten to thirteen pounds, to shift because your head is no longer perpendicular to your spine. No wonder it’s susceptible to trauma and whiplash! Your body’s center of gravity becomes off balance causing your body’s weight to stress one side more than the other. You might feel pain on that side. This stressor can cause dizziness, vertigo, insomnia, digestive issues, skeletal pain, functional short leg, functional scoliosis, excessive inward or outward spine curvature (lordosis and kyphosis), a higher shoulder on one side, painful head rotation, muscle spasms and pain in the back, hips and knees, and more.
So, my atlas bone WAS connected to my hipbone . . .
. . . in a manner of speaking. In addition to the symptoms above, your atlas connects and affects much more than you think. For example, you might not believe you would have sub-occipital pain with a misaligned atlas, yet with a non-level cranium the muscles around your eyes remain constantly tense, adjusting your eyesight to remain level with the horizon, compensating for the misalignment. Other vertebrae can become blocked, or subluxated, and may be treated with cortisone shots that have long-term, severe side effects.
Muscles may become rigid due to the constant tension. You may have a compressed lymphatic system and decreased blood flow in the arteries running through the small holes in your vertebrae as they flow from the heart through your neck to the brain, making four turns in your atlas alone, supplying the brain with over two-thirds of its blood. Compression or disruption here, with a decreased blood flow, means the brain receives less oxygen and nutrients, which can cause hypo- and hyper- tension problems, chronic fatigue, exhaustion and concentration difficulties. Nerve compression, including compression of the vagus nerve, may cause paresthesia (pins and needles sensations), gastrointestinal disorders, pain and aches, sleep disorders, heart arrhythmias, torpor, cold hands and feet, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in the head.
Finding an excellent atlas chiropractor takes some research, so put your back into it. (Really, ladies and gentlemen, it won’t be the last bad joke). A regular chiropractor with the usual snap, crackle, and pop just won’t cut it in this instance. You must find one who specializes in the atlas vertebrae. Up C Spine, www.upcspine.com, is a good resource to start with as it lists all upper cervical chiropractors. [If you’re in the mid-Atlantic region, check out www.theannapolischiropractor.com.] However, all atlas techniques are not created equal, and the low force, analytical techniques are recommended. These techniques are called Atlas Orthogonal, Advanced Orthogonal, Orthospinology, Blair, and NUCCA.
What’s the process?
The effective and precise procedure is non-invasive and requires no medication. You may have a stack of MRIs, X-rays, and CT scans, treatments and medications you have tried that you want to review with the atlas doctor, yet they will perform a thorough and complete diagnostic testing with you. Four X-ray images are taken and used to compile a 3-D vector of correction and proper table placement of the patient. The table placement opens the atlas articulations and presets the spine to fall into alignment. The percussive force leaves the atlas instrument as a compression energy wave that travels down the stylus, into the body and shifts the two-ounce atlas vertebra into proper position. This translates into your doctor having you lay on the table with your neck and head held in place, gently aligning the atlas instrument, a clear tube with a small, steel stylus, which is placed over the precise spot necessary and utilizes a gentle percussive force to move your atlas into proper alignment. You may not even feel the stylus as it does so.
You may need ongoing corrections over time as your musculature can become tense again over time due to stress, strain, jaw misalignments, mineral deficiencies, sleeping incorrectly, or even a forceful sneeze! Yet, that simple tap is all you need.
Be careful after your atlas is adjusted. No weightlifting, exercise, long commutes, or heavy loads of laundry that night (bonus, in my humble opinion). This is the night you want to schedule your self-care and downtime, as you may feel tired, and you want to allow your body some time to process the release it just had. Relax knowing a short appointment with your atlas chiropractor will resolve your problems and you’ll stand corrected.
*Shout-out to Dr. Marc Schwartz at https://www.theannapolischiropractor.com/ for putting up with my humor and providing technical assistance so I didn’t have to use the term “thingamabob.”
Kelly is a single mum, veteran, TBI survivor with a girl child and a frenchie, oolong tea in hand and humor on hand, who lives in Annapolis, Maryland.