Michael Thomas, DC
Each day I hear similar stories from my patients. I began to hurt two days ago, one might say. Others say, I have been feeling foggy in my head for a couple of weeks but the pain just started yesterday. Chiropractic has come to be associated with taking pain away. There is no doubt that as a profession, we are pretty good at this. And, if this was all we could do, we would still be an important part of the healthcare community. But upper cervical chiropractic is also very good at something that Medicine doesn’t even dream of. In order to understand what we can do, I need to take you to school for a few paragraphs.
Our body has several ways to communicate with itself but the nervous system has the wiring that connects all our parts together and tells all the parts how to work together. We usually separate the nervous system into two parts for understanding. The central nervous system is the brain and spinal cord (sometimes we include the retina and the cranial nerves too). This is where the processing of information takes place. The peripheral nervous system is the rest of this system, all the nerves that come off the spinal cord and connect all the various parts. It is a two way system. Some nerves travel outward to all the parts (like our muscles), and other nerves which come back from the parts to rejoin the spine and brain. The nerves that come out from the spine and brain are called efferent, and the nerves that go back to the spine are called afferent, or motor nerves and sensory nerves. All that we know about the world outside ourselves and the world inside ourselves travels through these sensory nerves.
There are another category of nerves too. They comprise the Autonomic Nervous System. This system used to be called the involuntary nervous system, but it turns out to be a bit more complicated than that. For instance, the autonomic nervous system will initiate our breathing without conscious awareness. We still breathe when we are asleep! But if we want, we can consciously initiate a breath when we want, or we can hold our breath (for a while!). The Autonomic Nervous System also has nerves that run toward and away from the spinal cord and brain, but these nerves run the life processes that are generally below our level of awareness. These nerves control blood vessels, organs and glands. The autonomic nervous system has our health in its hands. When the autonomic nervous system is in balance we are functioning normally, we are healthy. When the autonomic nervous system gets out of balance, we lose the ease of our health. We call it dis-ease. Chronic imbalance leads to chronic disease.
Much of the autonomic balance occurs in little control centers (nuclei) in the bottom of the brain, in the brainstem. Upper cervical misalignment can alter the blood flow to these centers, it can change and inhibit the circulation of cerebral spinal fluid (the garbage disposal system of the brain and spinal cord). It can also twist these tissues. The result is an imbalance in the function of these nuclei and this in turn results in changes in the function of our body. Small changes may not be evident at first, but over time, these changes can result in chronic problems. High blood pressure is one outcome that affects many people. Alteration of blood flow to the brain can result in the brain-fog so many people experience. It can also de-stable our posture and create pain and balance problems. When our posture is altered, all of our parts must shift and accommodate to these changes. Sometimes this causes changes in the motor nerves which make up 47% of the nervous system. Symptoms then include fatigue, weakness, tightness, and spasms. When the autonomic nerves are affected, symptoms can include sinus and allergy trouble, breathing problems, heart issues, digestive problems, lack of energy to get through the day. The autonomic nerves comprise another 47% of the nervous system.
The sensory nerves which communicate pain (also position sense, and temperature) comprise only 6% of the nervous system. By the time there is pain, the whole body may be well on its way to more serious problems. In fact, pain is often a late stage indicator of problems in the body. Our bodies talk to us in many different ways. Many of my patients will come into the office and tell me something isn’t right. They know from experience that getting an upper cervical adjustment can maintain their health and help them avoid the pains that eventually show up if they ignore the more subtle signals. They may not know exactly what is wrong but they know they are not right. Each person can learn their body’s messages if they begin to pay attention. If we wait for the pain to get our attention we have often allowed problems to become entrenched, making them much more difficult to overcome. A functional change can often be dealt with in a visit or two. Once a functional problem has been allowed to physically change (damage) the tissues, it becomes pathological and much more difficult to overcome. We see upper cervical work able to restore health to people everyday, even folks with significant pathologies, but it takes time to turn their ship about and head back into the calm waters of health. As always it is much easier to prevent problems than to overcome them.
In tough economic times it can seem prudent to wait until the pain is too much before coming in for care but this can be penny wise and pound foolish to quote an old saying. Once arthritis and degeneration have gained a foothold, life will never be quite the same. Corrective upper cervical adjustments can improve the quality of your life and prevent physical decline only if you maintain your alignment. For some people a visit every six months is all that may be needed to maintain health. Others may need 3-4 times a year (a seasonal checkup!). Once degeneration has set in, more frequent visits may be necessary but these visits can make a real difference in the quality of your daily life.
Waiting for pain to drag you into my door is the tail wagging the dog. Of course acute injuries occur and pain may be the first indication you have of a problem, but all too often, there is a nagging voice inside you that tells you something isn’t quite right. Listen to your inner voice and live to the full potential of this precious life. Upper cervical chiropractic is a tremendous gift to humanity and I am proud to offer it to our community. Come in and get checked even if pain isn’t grabbing your attention. Your health will reflect your commitment to it!