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How An Upper Cervical Adjustment Helps Low Back Pain

Back and neck painIf you have low back pain and have gotten a recommendation for chiropractic care on your neck, you might be confused as to why. After all, if your pain is in your lower back, at first glance it might seem like common sense to get chiropractic care in that area.

However, the neck, or upper cervical region in medical terms, is responsible for much of the pain a person may experience in their lower back. Understanding how the neck and lower back are related is, therefore, key.

As a spine management physician in the Chesapeake region for more than 20 years, I have expertise in helping educate patients about the relationship between the areas of the spine. In this article, I will explain how the upper cervical region can impact the lower back, and how chiropractic care in the neck can improve lower back pain.

What is the Upper Cervical Region of the Spine?

Seven vertebrae are located in your neck. These vertebrae, named C1 through C7, are the smallest bones in your spine. They also have one of the most important jobs in the spine, supporting the head, which can weigh up to 11 pounds (weight of a bowling ball).

The upper cervical region of the spine is the occiput (back of the skull), and the C1 and C2 vertebrae. The C3 through C7 vertebrae are considered to be the mid to lower cervical spine.

Like the rest of the spine, the upper cervical and cervical regions help you to stay upright and support the body’s movements. They also protect the spinal cord.

The top 2 vertebrae, C1 and C2, sit right under the skull and are known as the atlas and the axis. They are the most freely moveable joints in your spine, making them susceptible to injury and misalignment.

What is an Upper Cervical Misalignment?

An upper cervical misalignment is aspinal imbalance in the neck area. A misaligned neck can cause pressure on the other joints of the spine due to abnormal loading and weight-bearing. This can lead to a variety of mechanical spine problems as your back tries to overcome the imbalance.

What Are the Effects of an Upper Cervical Misalignment on the Lower Spine?

Over time, an upper cervical misalignment can lead to pain and degenerative changes in the spine as a whole. In general, your central nervous system neurologically affects the body from the top moving down. If there was a catastrophic injury to the lower spine, the effect would be from the injury point down (legs). However, when someone experiences a catastrophic cervical injury it can lead to whole body paraplegia (all parts below neck affected).

Misalignments in the upper cervical area can cause problems in the paraspinal muscles, or erector spinae, which support your back. Specifically, upper cervical misalignment can cause unilateral contractures, in which one the muscle group on one side of your back becomes shorter than the other side.

These contractures can cause muscle spasms in the lower back as well as pelvic tilt problems. Pelvic tilt, in which the lower back tilts abnormally inward or outward, can put strain on the lower back, leading to pain including sciatica.

In addition, an upper cervical misalignment is one of the big causes of compensatory pain in the spine. Compensatory pain occurs when your body tries to adapt to an injury or misalignment by recruiting other joints and muscles to do the work of the problem area. In the short term, this can help you function. However, in the long-term, this puts unexpected stress on the recruited muscle groups and can lead to pain, joint, and muscle damage.

One example of compensatory back pain from an upper cervical misalignment is Upper Cross Syndrome. This condition, which is linked to poor posture, reflects a pattern of abnormal muscle use in the head, neck and shoulders. Over time, this can lead to back pain.

What Causes an Upper Cervical Imbalance?

A variety of different injuries, problems, and conditions can cause an upper cervical misalignment. These include:

  • Poor posture
  • Injuries likewhiplash
  • Falls
  • Being hit in the face or head
  • Amusement park rides
  • Contact or high-impact sports
  • Repeatedly craning the neck to check mobile devices and phones
  • Sleeping in odd positions

If we determine that you do not have a spinal misalignment or that your pain may be due to another cause, we will refer you to the appropriate medical specialist.

What Kind of Chiropractic Care Focuses on the Upper Cervical Area?

NUCCA, or National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association, is a type of chiropractic care that focuses on the neck region.Unlike traditional chiropractic techniques which are associated with twisting, popping, and heavy thrusting, NUCCA uses a light touch on the delicate cervical area of the spine.

NUCCA chiropractors are specially trained and can earn board certification in NUCCA. Dr. Packer at Precision Spinal Care maintains a NUCCA board certification credential.

NUCCA focuses on correcting misalignments in the upper cervical spine. X-rays of the head and neck are used for the chiropractor to mathematically measure and evaluate the cervical misalignment. This allows the NUCCA chiropractor to precisely pinpoint the cause of misalignment, so that it can more easily be fixed.

Restoring the upper cervical vertebrae to their normal position in the spine can then correct misalignment and compensatory pain in the lower spine.

Upper Cervical Adjustments at Precision Spinal Care

If you are seeking care for your cervical spine misalignment, it is important to choose a doctor who is specifically credentialed in NUCCA and spinal biomechanics. These providers will be able to perform a biomechanical spine assessment and give recommendations on how best to treat your condition.

My experience and expertise in spinal biomechanics allow me to competently address your spinal misalignment. I am board certified in NUCCA and specialize in NUCCA technique within my practice. Additionally, I am trauma and hospital-qualified and have credentials in MRI spine interpretation, spinal biomechanical engineering and orthopedic testing through the Academy of Chiropractic. I am also a fellow in Spinal Biomechanics and Trauma which is recognized through the SUNY Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine.

At your first visit, I will review your medical records and perform a thorough examination. After your exam, we will discuss my findings and I will answer any questions you have.

If we decide that chiropractic care is not the best treatment for your condition, I will refer you to the appropriate provider to best meet your needs.

At Precision Spinal Care we are happy to help you determine the best way to treat your spinal stenosis. Call our office at (757) 382-5555 to speak with me or set up a consultation. You can also set up an appointment through our webpage.

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