How’s Your Atlas? …
The top bone of your neck is called C1 (the first cervical vertebrae), or more commonly, the atlas, and is the most important bone in your spine.
The atlas is an oval shaped bone with a hole in the middle. Kind of like an oval shaped ring. It is different from the other vertebrae because it is smaller and does not have the interlocking joints found in the rest of the spine.
Due to its shape, it allows you to swivel your head fully from side to side, up and down, and all around without moving your whole body.
Because of this great mobility, the atlas is more susceptible to injury and misalignment.
You are also particularly vulnerable here because it is through your atlas that your brain stem descends into your spine to become your spinal cord.
The brain stem is that very sensitive part of your brain that regulates many basic life processes such as: breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, levels of consciousness etc..
Your balance with gravity is also coordinated here via the vestibulospinal reflex.
In fact, this critical nerve centre, is the conduit through which all messages between your brain and your body must pass.
Your head is perched directly on top of your atlas. Your neck alignment is greatly influenced by how the atlas is sitting. The vertebrae below the atlas generally fall into place depending on how the atlas is positioned. This makes it important for the atlas to be positioned correctly, because the rest of the spine will follow suit.
Since the brain communicates with the body, and since it passes through a hole in this unique bone, it is even more important that the atlas is in the correct position.
The atlas is named for the Greek god Atlas, who held the world on his shoulders. What better name for such an important bone!?
There are many important structures that are directly affected by the position of the atlas bone. These include:
- The C-1 and C-2 nerve roots. Located at the back of your head near the base of your skull, and they lay directly above and below the atlas. They become extremely sensitive and can swell or become irritated when the atlas shifts out of normal alignment.
- The vertebral arteries on each side make a number of 90 degree turns at the atlas before entering into the skull and feeding the majority of the brain. Misalignment of the atlas, can put pressure or stretch on those arteries and affect blood flow to the brain. (Many headaches are thought to be caused by spastic arteries within the brain. Misalignment of atlas and headaches are often linked.)
- The muscles at the back of your head, into your neck, shoulders and even your low back can be affected by a misalignment of the atlas. Fibers from this area run to all of these areas, even as low as the bottom of your spine (L-5.) These muscles can become painful, tight, and can even cause dizziness.
- The dura mater, or sack, that contains the brain and spinal cord is attached to the atlas. With misalignment of the atlas, there is the potential to put tension on this sack. This can cause pressure changes in cerebral spinal fluid flow, because the cerebral spinal fluid is contained and moves within this sack. This is felt to be a major cause for tension headaches. Normalizing the atlas alignment, usually eliminates tension headaches quickly. There is also a lot of research into this area with regards to post-concussion symptoms, emphasizing the importance of the atlas and upper cervical chiropractic adjustments.
- The TMJ (temporomandibular joint), or jaw joint, is typically less than ¾ of an inch from the atlas and is attached by soft tissue. Misalignment of the atlas can put pressure or tension on the TMJ and cause symptoms in that region.
- The eustachian tubes, or ear canals, can be pulled to tension when the atlas misaligns. Soft tissue in the area causes this, much like in the TMJ region. Similarly, correction of an atlas misalignment can facilitate drainage and proper flow of the ear canals. This is why chiropractic adjustments can be so effective for many cases of ear infections.
Because of the sensitivity of your brain stem, atlas misalignment can very easily interfere with the messages traveling between your brain and your body. When these messages are interfered with, your body cannot respond or adapt properly to what your brain is trying to tell it to do, and therefore cannot function properly. Over time, this can present as a multitude of different health conditions.
Atlas misalignments often present themselves as symptoms seemingly unrelated to a spinal issues.
Get your atlas checked.
Proper alignment can help maintain good health, can correct existing problems and can help avoid many future health problems!
It just makes sense!