What Causes Atlas Misalignment?
Updated: Feb 28
Millions of people are walking around with pain throughout the body. Unfortunately, it's become such a norm that people often brush it off without giving it a second thought. It’s common for people to experience some form of spine misalignment and not even realize it.
The two most common misalignments occur in your back and neck. Your neck is a fragile area that can easily be misaligned, especially if you sleep the wrong way. If you're tormented by neck pain, headaches, back pain, or dizziness, the culprit might be an atlas vertebrae misalignment.
What is Atlas Misalignment?
Before we can talk about Atlas alignment, it's important to understand what exactly Atlas is. The Atlas is the upper cervical bone or the top vertebrae of the backbone that holds up the head. It's the first bone in the neck, also called C1, and it's a ring-like bone at the junction where the neck and head meet. The bone below that Atlas is called the Axis, and these two bones make up the upper cervical spine.
Its name references how Atlas (a Greek God) carried the world on his shoulders. The bone weighs about two to four ounces, and the human head weighs between eight to ten pounds.
This bone on the neck is responsible for many vital functions such as:
Balancing the head
Facilitation of blood flow to the head
Your head's range of motion
Protecting the brainstem
The Atlas is the bone in the spine that is most movable, making it vulnerable to injury and misalignment. An injury or accident can tear the connective tissue holding the bone in place, which causes the Atlas to be wedged out of position and cause misalignment.
So what is an atlas misalignment? When the upper cervical bone is unbalanced, one side tips slightly in one direction. As you can imagine, having the neck bone tilted means you'll have an off-balanced head.
Atlas Out of Alignment
So what are the consequences of a misaligned atlas? Misalignment can negatively affect all of its vital functions and other tissues and bones in your body.
Even if the Atlas is off by one degree in either direction, it can cause the entire spine to be out of alignment, the hips being elevated and the shoulders being twisted and uneven. As a result, it'll lead to overworked muscles, muscle spasms, and ligaments being deformed and strained. Having an atlas misalignment can often put a lot of pressure on your nerves and brainstems.
There are three ways that an atlas misalignment will affect you:
1. Spinal cord disruption and irritation
When the Atlas tilts or shifts out of position, it can cause irritation in the spinal cord. Consequently, the nerves of the spine will be damaged as well. This nerve damage can lead to problems with breathing, muscle pain, digestion, and high blood pressure. The nerve signal that is in malfunction will disrupt the postural muscles, which will disrupt the body's natural posture. Moreover, those muscles will go weak and causing slouching and twisting. Other muscles will overcompensate, resulting in muscle spasms.
2. Blood flow restriction
Your brain needs a consistent flow of blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients allowing you to thrive. Some of the vital nutrients carried to the brain are minerals, amino acids, vitamins, and glucose. The atlas bone also facilitates in carrying away things that your brain doesn't need, such as metabolic waste products, tons, and carbon dioxide.
An atlas misalignment will reduce the blood flow to and from the brain. Inadequate blood flow to the brain will be the source of many problems like frequent headaches, memory loss, lightheadedness, dizziness, mental fatigue, and brain fog.
Not to mention, you may experience other problems like:
Cramping in feet and hands
Cold hands, feet, and nose
Poor concentration and focus
Relying on caffeine to kickstart your brain
3. Dural sac compression
Surrounding our spinal cord, brainstem, and brain is a sack of fluid called the dural sac. This sac is connected to various bones in your body like the skills, spinal cord, tailbone, and neck. Twisting the Atlas will twist the dural sac. Thus, our tailbone and head get forced together, which jams the joints in the back and neck.
Additionally, it causes disc compression and degeneration of the bones. Twisting the dural sac can result in one leg to be shorter than the other and the hips to rotate, leading to feet, knee, and hip problems. Since everything is connected, it places extra pressure on the skull. The torsion inside the dural sac will lock the skull bones creating TMJ problems and headaches.
What Causes the Atlas to Come Out of Alignment?
The most common cause for Atlas misalignment is some form of trauma. Sports injuries, slips and accidents, and car accidents can lead to head and neck trauma resulting in upper cervical misalignments like the Atlas.
In addition, moving your head a lot for work or sleeping with your neck twisted can also put you at risk for atlas misalignment. Wear and tear from manual labor, office work, and technology overuse can also be contributing factors.
Like most spinal alignment, the reasons for a misaligned atlas includes repetitive motion, poor posture, bad ergonomics, and trauma like sports injuries and car accidents. When misalignment occurs, the ligaments that hold it all together become swollen, irritated and the bone no longer holds in place as it should.
Trauma can cause severe cases of atlas misalignments. For example, a car accident involves the head being thrown back and forth, which leads to whiplash. Additionally, concussions may occur from contact sports. Any head injury has a high chance of misaligning the upper cervical spine.
Upper cervical misalignments are quite common. That's because the C1 and C2 vertebrae make up about half of your head's movement. The bones move freely to facilitate motion, making them prone to misalignment.
Proper posture is key to ensuring upper cervical alignment. Leaning your neck forward when sitting all day can increase the pressure on your vertebrae, which causes immense strain on your neck. For example, a 60-degree angle of a forward head position will increase the strain on the upper cervical spine to 60 pounds.
Also, stress and toxins can contribute to misalignment through tightening of the neck muscles. It's typical for people to rub their shoulders and neck together without realizing it. Even toxins can lead to neck misalignment. The altered food we consume, the drugs we ingest, and the polluted air we breathe can play a role in the toxicity in our bodies and lead to a strained neck.
In short, an atlas bone is designed to perform a balancing act. A disruption in the balance leads to misalignment. Some of the contributing factors are:
Trauma to the spine, which causes a slipped or bulging disc
Static posture places strain on the cervical spine
Cervical soft tissue damage from events like whiplash
Subluxation of the cervical vertebrae leading to atlas joint instability
Poor posture results in overcompensating to one side of the body
Symptoms of Atlas Misalignment
There are many atlas misalignment symptoms. It's vital to know these symptoms so that you can suspect whether you may have them or not. Most patients will experience three or more of these symptoms at once.
Neck stiffness, muscle ache, and pain
Migraines that cause throbbing pain and potentially visual disturbance that can lead to nausea and vomiting.
Headaches can radiate from one side of the head to the base of the skull.
Dizziness, faintness, vertigo, or even rigging in the ears.
A loss of range of motion where you cannot lean or turn your head to one side fully.
Crackling sounds in the base of the skull or neck when turning your head
Postural distortion in many areas such as a shoulder tilt, head tilt, short leg, pelvic rotation
Jaw pain that is usually located close to the ear or behind the jaw
Shoulder pain that typically stems from between the shoulder blades
High blood pressure
Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
Rib or chest pain from postural distortion
Nerve root irritation at stress points along the spine
Spinal disc damage or lower back pain from postural distortion
Ankle, knee, or hip pain usually on the same side as the short leg
Radiating leg, shoulder, and arm pain that developed from nerve root irritation and tension
Brain congestion from an inadequate blood flow to the brain
Dysautonomia is a disease condition where the nerves of the autonomic nervous system are severely damaged
Vagus nerve disruption in the digestive, stomach, lungs, or heart
Why Won't My Atlas Stay Aligned?
Each vertebra, including the cervical spine, is held in place by nine ligaments. The ligaments are designed to hold these bones in place but also give the flexibility to move around. When the ligaments are damaged, they will swell and lose their ability to perform efficiently.
Once misalignment occurs and your muscles are immobilized, the muscles will tighten up, and muscle spasms will ensue.
Typically, people have trouble keeping their Atlas aligned because they either have already damaged the ligaments, and therefore natural healing won't work until the spine is realigned. Or, they are still stuck with the causes of the misalignment, such as repetitive motion or bad posture habits.
Keeping Atlas Aligned
There are many ways to keep your Atlas aligned, like maintaining good posture and performing stretches.
Here are some tips to keep your Atlas aligned and prevent misalignment:
Optimize your work environment: Your work area should be set up to maximize ergonomics. This means that your head is level with your monitor, feet flat on the ground, knees and hips are aligned, and back is upright. Make sure to move throughout the day, stand up and stretch from time to time.
Pay attention to your posture, especially your head: Examine your posture throughout the day. Avoid tilting the head on one side. This only places extra pressure on your neck.
Consume a healthy diet with good nutrition: Having the right minerals and vitamins can strengthen your cartilage and ligaments, which keep the atlas bone healthy and strong.
Get physical therapy: A physiotherapist can strengthen exercises and give you physical atlas therapy to increase your range of motion.
Orthotics: Some devices like orthopedic footrest aims to maintain proper alignment in your body.
Importance of Aligning Your Atlas Vertebra
The proper alignment of the atlas bone ensures the spine remains stable and that you have sufficient blood flow to your brain. Once the atlas bone is realigned, the nervous system will perform optimally and heal itself. When it comes to the Atlas, there's nothing more important than maintaining a healthy spine.
Misaligned cervical spine vertebrae can quickly lead to all sorts of health problems. Before you know it, it'll be impossible to deal with. In fact, you may be throbbing in pain and bedridden. We encourage you to act and seek help before the symptoms get worse.
How Atlas Orthogonal Chiropractic Can Help
The Atlas is a very fragile area that only an experienced and skilled chiropractor should handle. At Natural Care Chiropractic, we offer an atlas orthogonal treatment, a specialized technique designed to relieve discomfort and pain. This technique is one of the safest and most effective chiropractic treatments and will help realign the spine, allowing the muscles to return to their optimal position. As a result, this relieves the pain and tension that you feel in your back and neck.
So How Does Atlas Orthogonal Work?
First, a thorough examination and diagnosis are performed using detailed biomechanical and scientific protocols. It's a gentle and pain-free technique that won't require twisting your neck or any powerful movement.
Instead, an adjustment instrument will be used to restore and correct the patient's spinal alignment. The specialized instrument will deliver a precise atlas misalignment correction to the upper neck based on the specific angle determined from the x rays. The Atlas orthogonal images are carefully analyzed to determine each patient's unique misalignment. Furthermore, the instrument will be programmed to deliver precise percussive waves to reposition the spine. The adjustment places gentle focus on placing the Atlas back to the correct neurological and structural homeostasis position.
Consequently, the nervous system will function properly to allow the body to heal itself.
Our Atlas orthogonal adjustment instrument is so precise that the procedure can be done in just one or two adjustments. This technique reorients the atlas bone and cervical spine, allowing both to function normally again. The realignment will improve the communication between the body and the brain; therefore, the brain functions will also respond normally.
When this subluxation is adjusted and fixed, the spinal column is positioned back into its proper alignment. The neck, in particular, will be relieved of tension and pressure. And your head will feel balanced, and you'll be able to think more clearly.
The neck usually takes a huge portion of stress, which is why the muscles in that area may cramp or tighten up. This can be caused by everyday life responsibilities such as school, family, and work.
Dr. Mark Freund is a practitioner specializing in Atlas orthogonal chiropractic and is specifically trained in proper Cranial Manipulation protocol. He specialized in the detection and correction of an atlas subluxation complex.
For those dealing with Atlas misalignment or if you suspect having some form of misalignment in your neck, we urge you to book an appointment with us at Natural Care Chiropractic to determine if you're a candidate for care. Our providers have helped thousands of patients restore their spine and eliminate problems like spinal cord injury, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis.