Even a subtle shift in our vertebrae can be life-changing

By Shonda Smitherman  ·  Jun 20, 2023

(Editor's note: Some readers have noted that this post may leave the impression that upper cervical spine practitioners are different from other chiropractors in their training or certifications. These readers maintain that they are not different.)

Read also: Are you misaligned?

The Bible says that our body is a temple (1 Corinthians 6:19), a structure.

If a structure is on fire, the fire department is called. But wouldn’t it serve us better if someone would actually look at the structure before it catches on fire?

In the case of the structure of your body, one of the first organs to form is the brain stem and, shortly after, the first cervical vertebra of the neck. The spinal column houses and protects the brainstem and provides a structural foundation for the body. But, as with any structure, the foundation must be balanced. The spinal column is good at its job until something causes it to shift.

If we focus on our body as a structure, we learn that even a subtle shift of the first two vertebrae of the neck known as the atlas (cervical vertebra 1 or C1) and the axis (cervical vertebra 2 or C2) can be life-changing. Because the upper neck is most vulnerable to injury, it can misalign fairly easily from as little as 5 pounds of force. In fact, C1 is held only by muscle to protect the brainstem and has no other interlocking joint like other bones in the body do. Children from birth to age 10 are even more susceptible, as they are not structurally mature. Think of the injuries you or your children have had.

By the time we reach adulthood, many people of us a misalignment. Once the misalignment occurs, often unknown to us, a cascade of compensatory events happens. The body shifts into a state of adaption trying to compensate for the head, neck, and atlas shift. According to Dr. Chad McIntyre of Triad Upper Cervical Clinic in Kernersville, North Carolina, with misalignment, the spinal column has to compensate while progressively weakening structural support and its ability to protect the brainstem and spinal cord.

Eventually, one may start to notice an apparent difference in leg length, an uneven hip, a higher shoulder, or a head tilt. McIntyre encourages us to think of the brain stem as the control tower of the body. If the brainstem is compromised, there are changes seen throughout the body. Just as we need a cell tower for our phones, we need our brainstem for communication between our brain and our vital organs, muscles, and tissues.

Once the misalignment occurs, often unknown to us, a cascade of compensatory events happens.

Most misalignments remain pain free for years but often catch up with us as spinal joints and discs degenerate prematurely. Think of it as a tooth with a cavity that goes undetected for years before actual tooth decay starts.

Not only can a misalignment occur with the vertebrae in the neck but so can cervical instability. This is when the ligaments in the neck are so lax or damaged that the vertebrae do not stay in correct alignment. A misalignment and cervical instability are big deals because the brainstem is Grand Central Station for the nervous system. This is also because the cranial/vagus nerves, jugular veins, and carotid arteries pass through this close junction. According to Dr. Ross Hauser of Caring Medical, several health issues can be attributed to a misalignment, loss of the normal cervical curve, and/or cervical instability. (To learn more, visit Caring Medical or view “The Power of Upper Cervical Care.” )

So, what do you do if you suspect a misalignment of C1 or C2 and/or cervical instability? You can visit an upper cervical specialist, which is different from a chiropractor. The specialist uses a gentle corrective technique that is safe for all ages. It requires no twisting, cracking, popping or turning of the neck. C1 and C2 can be moved with only the pressure from the upper cervical specialist’s fingers. It’s an amazing way to regain proper alignment. You can also find an upper cervical specialist near you at UpperCervicalCare.com. However, if the ligaments are too damaged, as they were in my case, one may not be able to hold an alignment, and this is where treatments such as prolotherapy (injections to stimulate tissue healing) come in.

The information provided in this article is for educational purposes and is not meant as medical advice. It is the opinion of the writer. The information is not meant to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health professional.

Shonda Smitherman is a Samaritan Ministries member and a nurse practitioner who lives in North Carolina.