Upper Cervical Chiropractic (“UCC or sometimes referred to as upper cervical specific chiropractic) gained recognition around 1930 when B.J. Palmer, the “Developer” of chiropractic, focused on correcting spinal misalignments in the upper neck due to his belief this was the only place nerve interference between the brain and the body could occur. As the years passed, many others proposed theories and performed research to develop what we have today.
According to the American Chiropractic Association, there are approximately 70,000 licensed chiropractors in the U.S. It is reported that only 1,000 of those licensed in the U.S. are trained in the upper cervical specific techniques. Although the techniques vary even inside UCC, the general consensus amongst all them are the same, which is that the upper cervical spine needs to be in proper alignment for health to occur.
UCC is a subtype of chiropractic concerned with the alignment of the top two vertebra in the neck Here is why this area is so important: The vertebral column, which protects the spinal cord, is broken down into : the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, pelvic, and sacral vertebra. There are seven (7) bones in the cervical spine.
The top one, called the atlas or C1, is a ring like structure that weighs approximately two ounces. The human head on average weighs between 8-12 pounds. The head sits directly on C1 and as C1 moves, the weight of the head moves accordingly. C2 is below C1 and is called axis. C1 will rotate around C2 (think of the motion when you say “no”).
In fact, about 60-70% of the side-to-side motion of your head happens at the C1-C2 articulation. The spinal cord becomes the brainstem right above C1. Due to the brainstem and other medullary structures, one can argue the occipital (skull)- atlanto (C1)- axial (C2) complex is the most important structure to analyze when it comes to optimal neurological health.
The load bearing joints (called facets) in this area are of utmost importance in terms of stability due to the fact that the C1 vertebrae lacks a vertebral disc above and below it. The region also has blood vessels that run through the holes of the C1 bone (called the transverse process) which form a vessel that feeds blood to the brain. Impingement of these blood vessels can lead to issues or symptoms as well.
Finally, the spinal cord is covered by cerebral spinal fluid. This is a clear, colorless fluid that provides nutrients to the brain and spinal cord, keeps them healthy and protected, as well as makes your nervous system work properly. The atlas has a ring that lines up with the bottom of the skull, and this aligned structure is where cerebrospinal fluid flows to the brain and spinal cord. Misalignment here can cause obstruction of the flow and issues related to health.
From a mechanical perspective, human beings are one of the few mammals to walk on two legs and two feet (called bi-pedal). When doing this, our heads are the farthest objects from the ground. If that head is off center, even just a few degrees, that will translate down, sometimes exponentially, the farther from the head you go. Neurologically, the brain receives a very high input from a group of muscles in the upper neck, when misalignment happens. In fact, the muscles that connect C1 and C2 have more “sensors” in them per gram of muscle fiber than any other muscle in the human body.
In other words, the slightest misalignment at C1-C2 will flood the brain with input to cause it to adapt instantly to keep the head level. This will result in the head, shoulders, hips, and legs to shift and account for the misalignment. This is one of the reasons why C1 misalignments can cause low back or knee pain. Oftentimes, corrections to the areas that have adapted and cause pain may yield temporary relief, but until the cause of those changes are corrected at the C1-C2 level, the results may not be permanent.
The most important structure in house is not the walls or the roof. It is the foundation. The foundation has to be level. The ground on which the house is built is often dug up and prepared first, before the foundation is poured. Years ago, when technology was lacking, this process was not as precise as it is today. That lead to many issues with foundations cracking and houses not being built as well as they could have been.
If a house was built on an uneven foundation, you may have an aesthetically beautiful home, but once the walls crack or roof starts to develop issues, wouldn’t it be silly to just fix the walls or replace the roof without addressing the foundation?
We would make the argument that your foundation to your health is at the C0(skull) -C1-C2 region. This is why we analyze this area first with mostly all of our health issues. Whether it be neurological or musculoskeletal in nature, this area must be aligned properly as your foundation. Once it is, then we can address secondary or tertiary areas of concern, knowing our foundation is correct.