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  • Dr. Mark Freund

What Is Atlas Displacement Complex?

atlas displacement symptoms

Almost everyone has experienced a stiff or sore neck at some point in their life. The World Health Organization considers neck and back pain one of the most common disabling conditions. At any given time, 10 to 20% of adults experience symptoms of neck pain.

If you’ve got nagging neck pain that simply won’t go away or experience frequent headaches, you may have an atlas displacement complex. In short, the atlas subluxation or misalignment of the upper cervical neck bone can cause a lot of pain and agony throughout your body. It can cause misalignment in your back and legs, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and other terrible symptoms. Fortunately, atlas orthogonal treatment is a precise and gentle method that corrects the atlas misalignment, which aids in the recovery of your body and relieves its symptoms. In this article, we’ll cover what the atlas displacement complex is, the causes, symptoms, and how it’s treated.

The Atlas Displacement Complex

The atlas is a ring-like bone in the upper region of the vertebrae, and it’s designed to hold the weight of your head and transfer it evenly to your neck and shoulders. Despite only being in the head region, it can have significant effects throughout your body. Good balance in the head and neck results in a balanced pelvic. Consequently, good pelvic balance is important for lower back alignment and comfort.

Atlas subluxation complex, otherwise known as ASC, is a condition where the atlas is moved out of its proper alignment with the occipital bone above and the axis bone below. The term subluxation means a dislocation.

Atlas Displacement Complex

Since it's the first bone in the spinal cord, even the slightest misalignment will cause exaggerated misalignments throughout the remainder of the vertebrae anatomy. Tiny subluxation of the atlas can cause massive movements of the bones at the bottom of the spine, such as the lumbar, sacral, and even coccygeal regions.

Atlas Displacement Symptoms

The main issue with suffering from a subluxated atlas vertebra is the effects on the brain stem. Ischemia and compression are possible effects and can cause severe consequences. Possible symptoms of atlas displacement are:

  • Digestive and gastrointestinal problems

  • Internal organ failure

  • Chronically tense muscles

  • Hypertension

  • Back and neck pain, stiffness, and muscle ache

  • Allergies

  • Asthma

  • Deteriorated posture such as head tilt, pelvic tilt, short leg, and shoulder tilt

  • Respiratory impairments

  • Limb pain

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness, vertigo, ringing in the ears, and faintness

  • Skeletal abnormalities, diabetes

  • Neurological dysfunction

  • Homeostasis issues

  • Depression

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Facial pain or palsy

  • Rib or chest ache

  • Ankle, knee, or hip pain

  • Brain congestion

  • High blood pressure

  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia

  • Dysautonomia is caused by an imbalance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system

  • Nerve root irritation due to stress points along the spine

  • Jaw pain

  • Crackling sounds in the neck or grating when turning the head or neck

To summarize, the symptoms of atlas displacement will affect the following functions in the body:

Reduced brainstem function: Just a millimeter of dislocation can take the atlas from protecting the brainstem to applying a lot of pressure to it. Consequently, it can reduce proper brainstem function, which leads to headaches, dizziness, and high blood pressure.

atlas subluxation

Change in the spine: With atlas displacement, changes can take place in the spine to overcompensate and hold the head up. Besides neck pain, it can lead to pain in other areas like back pain, shoulder pain, and pinched nerves along the spine.

Restricted blood flow: A misalignment of the neck means that the arteries won’t have their typical clear path through the vertebral foramen. Any misalign can restrict the proper blood flow and prevent the brain from receiving the precise amount of oxygen needed for optimal performance.

Inhibited range of motion: A misaligned atlas makes it painful to move your head in certain ways. Generally, you’ll lose some range of motion if the C1 is dislocated or out of place.

What Causes Atlas Misalignment Common Causes of Atlas Displacement Complex

The neck bones (C1 and C2) are unique in their functional design. They help facilitate a wide range of motion that no other part of the spine is capable of. The atlas is responsible for the up and down movement, while the axis is responsible for the left and right mobility. Although there are seven neck bones, these two bones account for half of the head’s range of motion.

Here are the typical causes for atlas misalignment:

Birth: Even under normal circumstances, the birth process is often the first cause of spinal stress. That’s because the head of the child first appears out of the womb. Sometimes, the physician may grab the baby’s head and twist it in a figure-eight motion. This can cause significant stress on the newborn’s spine under normal delivery.

Whiplash and car accidents: Car accidents sometimes involve the head being thrust forward and backward. As a result, hyperextension can occur. Even collisions of 5 mph can cause a whiplash or atlas misalignment. Minor accidents can cause the atlas misalignment to go undiagnosed. Even when whiplash is detected, it can be dismissed as healed if the range of motion returns and the swelling disappears. Unfortunately, if misalignment occurs, more attention and care are needed to ensure that the vertebrae are put back into their natural and neutral position. Although time, bed rest, and ice can reduce the swelling, none of this helps realign the vertebra back to the optimal position.

Poor posture: The head weighs between 10 to 12 pounds, and the atlas is responsible for holding it up. A forward head position at 60 degrees increases the strain on the atlas by up to 60 pounds. Most individuals tend to lean their necks forward all day long while sitting at their desks or staring at their mobile devices, which causes tremendous strain on the atlas. This cumulative effect of the forward neck position leads to misalignment. Fortunately, it can be treated with proper chiropractic care and physical therapy.

Concussion or sports-related injury: Contact sports such as wrestling and football can lead to concussions. Since the atlas balances the head at the base of the skull, any form of head injury has a high chance of taking the upper neck out of alignment. However, many non-contact sports can lead to neck injuries, such as skiing, board sports, and horseback riding. That is because unpredictable motion can lead to whiplash.

Toxins and stress: Stress causes your neck muscles to tighten over time. Toxins are a form of physiological stress leading to building up stress throughout the body. Additionally, toxins can come into your body in many forms, such as polluted air, chemical farming practices, altered food, pharmaceutical drug use, and impure water.

Slips and falls: It’s common for children to fall dozens of times in their childhood, like when they’re learning to walk, run or ride a bike. This can lead to early misalignments that can slowly build up over the course of their lifetime.

atlas misalignment causes

The most common cause for atlas displacement complexes comes from trauma such as sports injuries, car accidents, or slip and fall accidents. However, the second most common cause is repetitive motion injuries such as moving your head a lot at work, bad posture, or sleeping with your neck twisted.

Upper cervical spine misalignment is a serious condition that can lead to chronic health conditions such as asthma, migraines, fibromyalgia, TMJ dysfunction, and more. However, fortunately, getting the proper diagnosis for it early and treating it right away can help to reduce these symptoms.

Atlas Subluxation Complex Diagnosis

The diagnosis of atlas subluxation consists of a multi-layered evaluation process where the patient will have to undergo numerous standardized tests such as postural assessment, anatomical symmetry measurements, and leg length discrepancy checks. The most vital component of the ASC diagnosis is the x-rays films to check the atlas alignments using a three-dimensional model made by combining three views into a singular diagnostic tool.

X-rays are taken from the top, front, and side of the head in a special sequence called the vertex view, nasium view, and lateral view. The doctor or chiropractors will then see whether there is a misalignment in the atlas.

Atlas Subluxation Complex Treatment

There are many treatment options for an atlas subluxation. It’s important to keep in mind that some treatments are more effective than others, and it may be helpful to combine some of these treatment options.

Therapy: There are many therapeutic options available to treat atlas misalignment. This includes the following:

  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist will demonstrate the proper neck-strengthening exercises, correct posture, and other treatments like applying ice, heat, and electrical stimulation to help prevent reoccurrence and ease your pain.

  • Traction: This uses pulleys, weights, or an air bladder that gently stretches your neck. This is typically only performed under the supervision of a physical therapist to offer pain relief to the neck and especially from nerve root irritation.

  • Short-term immobilization: Sometimes, your doctor may recommend a soft collar to support your neck and relieve pain by eliminating some of the pressure from the neck’s structure. However, it shouldn’t be used for more than one or two weeks or for three hours at a time since that can do more harm than good.

At-home remedies: When you’re at home, the pain can be almost unbearable. This can make it extremely difficult to perform your normal activities. Thus, it’s important to do these at-home remedies when possible:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers (OTC): If the pain is excruciating, you may want to consider using OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen sodium (Aleve), or ibuprofen (Advil).

  • Alternate heat and cold: You can decrease the inflammation by applying an ice pack for about 20 minutes a few times per day. Then alternate with a heat treatment such as applying a heating pad or taking a warm shower.

  • Home exercises: Once the worst part of the pain has subsided, you can perform gentle stretching exercises daily. Your physical therapist or doctor may instruct you with the proper technique for your upper neck. First, warm up your back and neck with a heating pad or in the bath or shower. Then gently bend, tilt and rotate your neck.

Medications: Besides typically at-home over-the-counter medications, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medicine along with tricyclic antidepressants and muscle relaxants for pain relief.

Alternative medicine: Besides the traditional methods, often alternative medicine can work better. These alternative treatments are:

atlas displacement treatment

  • Acupuncture: This involves the insertion of very thin needles into multiple points in your body. This will stimulate the nerve, muscle, and tissues to help generate biochemical reactions which promote the body’s natural healing mechanisms to work properly.

  • Chiropractic care: A chiropractic adjustment involves applying an abrupt force to a joint. This procedure involves minimal risk and can provide pain relief to your neck.

  • Manual Therapy: A practitioner will manipulate the muscle tissues in your neck with their hands. It tends to provide pain relief for at least a short time and increase the range of motion.

Atlas Orthogonal Treatment

Although the above methods have their place in treating neck pain, arguably the most effective and safest method to treat atlas displacement is the atlas orthogonal treatment. In this procedure, an orthogonal percussion instrument places a precise, gentle, and completely painless pressure to adjust the atlas. Unlike typical chiropractic care, no heavy upper neck or abrupt force is involved.

Conditions that Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care Can Treat

Upper cervical chiropractic care is designed to correct misalignments in the upper neck region of the spine, specifically the atlas (C1) and axis (C2). Upper cervical care is gentler than chiropractic care, thus making it a great option for sensitive patients.

This type of care can treat many conditions such as:

  • Back pain

  • Neck pain

  • Migraines and headaches

  • Meniere’s disease and vertigo

  • Fatigue and fibromyalgia

  • Blood pressure

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Poor posture

  • Sciatica

  • Muscle weakness

  • Difficulty breathing

Correction of the Atlas Subluxation Complex

The atlas vertebrae are in a unique position in the body and have a vital role in the various functions in other areas. First, the atlas supports the head, and second, it provides a wide array of flexibility to the head. Furthermore, it protects the brain stem. These are critical responsibilities to ensure that the central nervous system is healthy and functioning properly.

Most people only view the atlas orthogonal technique as a neck and back pain treatment. However, it goes far beyond that. It’s designed to help the body to heal and promote better function. As mentioned before, even the smallest misalignment can lead to a wide range of symptoms throughout your body. That’s because misalignment in the upper cervical causes other areas to overcompensate, and the brain isn’t receiving or sending proper signals, which can lead to a host of other problems.

Fortunately, atlas orthogonal care can help realign your upper cervical spine and allow the body to heal. It has a high probability of assisting you in pain alleviation. Furthermore, the method eliminates the need for surgery or medication in most cases. Using x-rays and other diagnostic scanners to precisely measure the correct angle of the misalignments means that the treatment can be more effective. That’s because the instrument only targets the root cause and only needs a gentle force to activate realignment. Furthermore, adjustments can be customized to fit the patient’s particular needs. Say goodbye to your neck pain and other health problems.

atlas misalignment correction

Let Natural Care Chiropractic help you discover the joy in returning to your body’s healthy balanced condition. The smile on our patient’s faces when they no longer feel the agonizing neck pain makes all of us Natural Care Chiropractic look forward to showing up to the office daily. If you no longer want to feel neck pain or have other areas of concern, book an appointment with us, and let’s see how we can help your body feel better.


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