Friday, January 21, 2011

Have You Heard Of Upper Cervical Care?

by Mindy Drake D.C.

If not, you’re not alone. Most people haven’t, and the funny name kind of makes you wonder what type of care this is? When we speak about ‘upper cervical care‘, we’re actually referring to the area of the upper spine that connects your head to your neck. There are 24 vertebrae in your spine- they’re like little square donuts stacked on top of each other, forming a tunnel for your spinal cord, and the spaces between them are like exit windows for all of your nerves. Your spine is really just a very ‘drafty’ house for your nervous system!

The top seven vertebrae are called your ‘cervical spine’, basically meaning the ‘bridge’ between your head and your body. The very top two vertebra, right up near your head, are the ‘upper cervical’ spine, and they have the very important job of holding up your head, allowing it to move in all directions, and they also surround and protect your brain stem. The design of this area makes it the weak spot in your body, and it’s very vulnerable to injury. Now, your brain stem is the most important part of your body- it’s kind of like your battery, and all of the nerves in your whole body eventually travel into the brain stem, either from the spinal cord below, or from the brain above. If those two very special vertebrae at the top of the neck, called the Atlas (C1) and the Axis (C2) are not in perfect alignment due to trauma or an accident, often the nerves that come out of that area can be irritated, and can cause pain and dysfunction. Usually the pain will start slowly, and get worse as the bones are misaligned for a longer period of time.

C1 and C2: Atlas and Axis

Upper cervical doctors require additional training to learn how to adjust the top of the neck precisely and gently; there are a few different techniques for this very precise work (N.U.C.C.A, Knee Chest, Toggle Recoil, Grostic/Orthospinology, Atlas Orthogonal and Blair). It’s very similar to all of the others, but involves a little different analysis of the spine, and some additional muscle testing.

The most important word to describe what we do as upper cervical doctors is ‘specific', and we take extra time to carefully analyze, and then very gently adjust the top of the neck. We also do extra testing to make sure we only adjust when absolutely necessary. This procedure gently and effectively ‘put’s your head on straight’ (all of our mothers and teachers love to hear this!), but crucially, it also takes pressure and irritation off of the nerves of the upper cervical spine, which are frequently implicated in migraine headaches, occipital neuralgia, and trigeminal neuralgia, and this also removes irritation from the brain stem area. This is a very good thing, and frequently can lead to a decrease in pain, sometimes almost immediately.

Another benefit of specific upper cervical care is that if we can gently and effectively correct the position of the top two vertebra, it takes far fewer adjustments to help the adjustments stay in place, and quite often the lower areas of your spine will align all by themselves with very little help from us. Your body can heal itself; sometimes it just needs a little boost in the right direction.


  1. Don't forget us Orthospinology/Grostic folks! Great post though.

  2. bkydbds,

    Thanks for the comment! Grostic/Orthospinology as well as Toggle Recoil are now up there as well.


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