I have a special interest and expertise in treating patients with Craniocervical Instability or CCI. Recently an upper cervical chiropractor sent me an interesting video of an even more interesting patient. So let’s dig in.
The Upper Neck Bones
As I wrote in my book on Craniocervical Instability, the C1-C2 joint is one of the more interesting in the body in that it’s built to be inherently unstable. Most joints, if you did nothing to them, because of their ball and socket configurations (convex/concave), would remain stable. However, the C1-C2 (the joint between the first and second cervical vertebrae) is a convex surface on a convex surface:
Hence, if it doesn’t have ligament and muscle stability to keep it properly aligned, the joint will displace. That causes the Atlas (C1) to rotate on the Axis (C2). Because all sorts of important wiring is jacked into or around this area, the patient can get all sorts of crazy symptoms from headaches to rapid heart rate. If you want to learn more, read my book CCI 101:
A Brain MRI that Startled Me
I now see 5-10 CCI patients a week. These patients all have damage to the ligaments that hold the head onto the neck. Many have all sorts of MRI images because they have bounced from one medical specialist to another who all don’t know how to help, so many have random pictures of this area or that. Brain MRIs are common, so when I was scrolling through Beth’s MRI images, it wasn’t so uncommon to see an MRI of that area. What blew me away was this image:
The white here is missing brain tissue from an old stroke. Beth was still young when that happened, so she recovered most of her function until a traumatic injury damaged her upper neck ligaments. From there, things went downhill again. Her life changed when she met an AO Chiropractor.
AO and NUCCA
AO and NUCCA are both Chiropractic techniques that focus on getting the unstable Atlas (C1) and Axis (C2), back in place. While they use different techniques to do that, many of my CCI patients swear by these professionals and what they do as the only thing that has helped them. This is despite seeing an army of medical specialists at various famous institutions who provided no help.
The AO doctor who helped my patient Beth is Dr. Laurel Griffin in Iowa. Beth and Laurel were kind enough to share the following videos with me:
Beth before an upper cervical adjustment:
Beth after an upper cervical adjustment:
What’s Happening Here?
Your brain does a huge amount of work to inhibit pre-programmed motor pathways that exist at the spinal cord level. If you have spent any time with a baby, you may know that if you turn their head, their body can get into all sorts of strange positions out of their control. One of these is called the ATNR (Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex):
This reflex disappears after about 6 months of age because the brain develops enough to shut it down in a process called descending inhibition. We still all have the wiring for this and other reflexes, but we never see them unless we’re fatigued or have a brain injury. Does this look familiar?
The hand extends as the head is turned in that direction. That’s just neurologic fatigue creeping in. Meaning that the same reflex that made the baby’s arm extend when the head was turned to the same side is at play here. When a football player does this Heisman pose, it’s because he’s giving max effort and part of the ATNR reflex is let off its inhibitory leash.
Beth’s lack of control of her primitive spinal cord reflexes got worse after an upper cervical injury. What Laurel is able to do for her is to restore her brain’s ability to quiet those reflexes by realigning her C1-C2 bones. Basically, reducing irritation on the upper spinal cord and brain stem and allowing Beth’s already compromised (because of the old stroke) descending inhibition to work again. While this also happens in the average CCI patient, because their brain is still intact to suppress these reflexes, they may only notice better motor function, but nothing as dramatic as what we see in Beth.
The upshot? I told Beth and Laurel that I would blog on all of this so that it could possibly help other patients with CCI. Even if you don’t have CCI, realize that your body has many reflexes that it’s constantly shutting down. They come out in times of neurologic fatigue or when there’s a brain injury. So let’s all be thankful for what we don’t have to deal with every day and for our brain’s ability to shut these reflexes off!
This content was originally published here.