“My hip and leg hurts Doc, what does that have to do with my neck?” I hear this question frequently. I understand the disconnect but let me explain.
Let me start by saying I was a 10-year sufferer of sciatica myself. Some days it wasn’t too bad, others it was difficult to walk. Having been an athlete all my life, I stretched seemingly non stop, with little to no result. I tried massage, different exercises, heat, cold, acupuncture, and just about anything you can think of, and the end result was, I still had sciatica. Finally, someone told me my upper cervical spine (upper neck) might be the source of my pain. My first thought was, “that doesn’t really make sense,” but my second thought was, “nothing else has worked so let’s try it.” Very soon I understood how my neck was affecting my leg, but more importantly, I no longer had sciatica.
Sciatica comes from two different sources. Either it is something called piriformis syndrome, or there is a disc issue. Regardless of the source, it is important to understand it is a nerve issue. Nerve impingement (pressure) is causing the shooting intense pain you are feeling.
The large majority of sciatica cases are piriformis syndrome. The piriformis is a hip muscle that runs diagonal across the pelvis. The sciatic nerve is a very large nerve, about the thickness of your pinky, and it runs underneath this muscle. If the muscle is at normal tension, you don’t have a problem, but if something causes the piriformis to go into a tighter tone or spasm, then you are in big trouble. The muscle then presses on the sciatic nerve and the shooting pain begins.
The second and less frequent cause of sciatica is a disc problem in the lower back. Due to trauma, degeneration, or a loss of mechanics the disc between two vertebrae has shifted out of position and is applying pressure to either the spinal cord or a spinal nerve. This pressure causes the burning intense pain in the nerve.
If you are saying “that is great info doc, but what does that have to do with my neck?” here we go. Think of your body and spine as a building. If the top of the building begins to lean, the foundation below is eventually going to feel the effects. When the upper neck gets misaligned, it causes the head to tilt. This begins to put pressure on the rest of the spine. Just like the top of the building leaning puts pressure on the foundation, the head tilt puts pressure on the bottom of the spine, the pelvis. When that happens, the pelvis has to tighten up and shift to accomodate for the uneven load being placed on it, and you get piriformis syndrome. This is why so often other treatments and therapies fail. The origin of the issue is relatively far away from the symptom and must be addressed.
If it is a disc issue, the same pressure that causes the hips to shift, puts undue stress on the spine. The lower back has to deal with pressure it wasn’t designed to handle, and the first thing to fail is the disc. Soft tissue is going to give out before bones, and now we have nerve impingement (pressure from a bulging or herniated disc. The end result again can be sciatica.
I can tell you from personal experience, if you are suffering with sciatica, you need to get your neck checked. Not every case of sciatica is an upper cervical issue, but in my personal and professional experience, a great deal of them begin at the top of the neck. We are experts in this office at evaluating the upper neck and will be able to tell you on the very first visit if your upper neck is the source of your pain. We offer a free consultation and evaluation so you can find out.
Call Upper Cervical Health Centers of Fort Myers today at (239) 243-8810.
So what if my upper neck isn’t in perfect alignment, does it really matter? That is a fairly common question, and I will admit one I asked myself as a new patient many years ago. The simple answer is YES. A great big huge yes. Our anatomy and physiology 100% say yes. There are three main reasons that are all intertwined, but let’s break them down.
The top bone in your spine, called the atlas, is the base for your skull. You know, the thing that protects your brain. Imagine you are holding a bowling ball on top of a broom stick. As long as the ball is centered right on top, it won’t be too bad, but if that ball gets a little off-center, it is going to feel much heavier quickly. The same goes with the head. If the top bone gets off center it takes the head with it and suddenly the rest of your spine and back muscles get put under a much heavier load. Think tight neck, upper/lower back, even sciatica.
If the head is off center, we call that head tilt. That tilt can throw off some of your internal centers relating to where you are in space. That can lead to vertigo, dizzyness, and a general lightheadedness.
Your spinal cord/lower brainstem pass through the axis. If I told you you had pressure on your brain would you be alarmed? If your upper neck is misaligned, it is quite possible you have pressure on your brainstem. The brain doesn’t have pain receptors, so you won’t feel pain but the pressure can exhibit itself other ways.
Here are a few of the functions controlled by the spinal cord/brainstem:
Seems pretty important…..pressure on the brainstem is NEVER good for ANYONE at any point. I feel like I could stop right here and skip reason three but I promised you three.
Blood flow! Our brains need proper blood flow right? If an area of the body doesn’t get enough blood flow, it simply won’t function as well. When the upper neck is misaligned in certain patterns, the vertebral arteries can be compressed and limit blood flow to the brain. The main arteries that deliver blood to the brain pass through the upper neck, then enter the skull. Upright MRI studies have proven over and over that a rotation of the top bone in the neck can partially block blood flow to the brain. This lack of blood flow can affect the brain’s ability to function at 100% capacity.
Add it all up and it seems like a pretty solid case to have your upper cervical spine checked. Hopefully you don’t have an issue, but it needs to be ruled out. As chiropractors like to say “from the cradle to the grave”, everyone can benefit from having a properly aligned spine, a brainstem free of interference, and proper blood flow to the brain. Come in to Upper Cervical Health Centers of Fort Myers for your free consultation today.
When looking at a spine from the front or back, we all know we want it to be straight. If it is curved, this is what we know as scoliosis. We don’t want that. What we do want is curves in the spine if we are looking from the side.
The curves in the upper cervical neck area, upper/mid, and lower back help our spine support the weight of our body. If they are in the proper shape, and the proper biomechanics, we are in good shape. When the curve is lost and the spine goes straight, or even worse, the curve reverses, it sets us up for a number of problems.
The spine is pretty sturdy when it is healthy and flexible. It is a matter of teamwork, and every part of the spine shares in the load. The bones, discs, muscles, ligaments etc., all do a portion of the work. If the spine loses the normal curve, the weight shifts, and much more is placed on the bones and discs. This can lead to two conditions, spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease. When placed under too much stress, the bones will grow larger, and the discs will shrink or become displaced.
There is a physiological law called Wolff’s Law. Wolff’s Law states that a bone placed under increased stress will change itself over time to accommodate the load. In other words, if your vertebrae have increased weight (due to the loss of curve) they begin to grow. This leads to degeneration, arthritis, bone spurs, and spinal stenosis. Stenosis is simply the narrowing of a space. In this case the space that narrows is your spinal canal. If it gets severe enough, it begins to impact the spinal cord and can lead to a number of neurological complications.
A loss of curve can also dramatically impact the health of the spinal discs. Two main issues can occur with an unhealthy disc. First, it can thin and decrease the space between the vertebrae. This is so important, because the spinal nerves exit the spinal cord in the space between the vertebrae, above and below. If this space narrows, things like numbness and tingling in the arms and legs can occur. The other main issue is a disc herniation or bulge. This can create very serious issues and severe pain. The disc pushes out of its normal position and into the spinal cord or spinal nerve, which usually causes a lot of pain.
One of the main influences of spinal position is the position of our head. If the head is where it should be, then the spine is free to be in a correct position. What often happens in a trauma like a car accident, slip or fall, or head trauma, is the upper neck gets misaligned. Since the head sits on the top bone of the spine, movement of the top bone will take the head with it. If the head is off center, the spine will do whatever it has to do to accommodate for this position. This leads to a loss of the curve.
The good news is correcting the upper cervical misalignment will return the head to its proper position, and allow the curves to return to normal. The great news is spinal stenosis and disc issues are reversible. Once the proper mechanics are restored, the body no longer needs the extra bone so it will begin to remove it. The proper mechanics also remove the stress on the discs, and can lead to them beginning to resume their normal size and position.
Just like children are screened for scoliosis, every child and adult should be screened for this other type of spinal curve in the upper cervical area. If you are already dealing with degeneration and stenosis, you should be evaluated immediately to see if you can be helped.
We offer a free evaluation to determine if your upper cervical spine is in the proper shape and working correctly. We specialize in making sure your head is on straight, ensuring proper spinal health. Call us at Upper Cervical Health Centers of Fort Myers for your free consultation today, 239-243-8810!
Do you feel tired all the time? Do you wake up after a night of sleep and feel like you barely slept? Do you rarely, if ever, feel good and filled with energy? It could be a small bone in your neck that is wearing you out.
Our bodies are in a constant balancing act, regulating all of the things we never think about. Things like keeping our blood pressure not too high, or not too low. It’s the same with hormones, fluid levels, and countless other bodily functions. All of these things are controlled by our nervous system. All of it goes on while we go about our day. As long as everything stays in balance, we are all set. The problem comes when things begin to get out of balance.
We have two sides to our nervous system. The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic (PSN). They are basically the gas pedal and the break pedal for our body. When we need to get up and go, the SNS is dominant, and when it is time to calm down, relax, sleep etc., the PNS needs to dominate.
Imagine you are walking across the plain and a lion starts chasing you. Your blood pressure jumps up, heart rate goes up, and blood is shuttled to your muscles, with all systems firing to get you moving as fast as possible. Suddenly, your body isn’t very worried about digestion, repair, healing, or your immune system. You are in fight or flight mode, and that is exactly where you need to be. While this is exactly what you want when Leo the lion is chasing you, it isn’t ideal 24 hours a day. If you are in continual fight or flight mode this is known as Sympathetic Dominance, and it’s really not good for you.
One of the most common things I see in the office, and one of the most common side effects of Sympathetic Dominance, is fatigue and sleep issues. No matter how much sleep the person gets, they don’t feel rested, and getting through life just feels much harder than it should be. Whether the issue is trouble going to sleep, or staying asleep, they often can’t tell you the last time they woke up feeling good.
If our bodies are functioning properly and our nervous system is balanced we go through 5 stages of sleep. The fourth stage is the deepest and it is most important that we reach this stage. It is the point when growth hormone release is at its highest. This is an important factor in cell reproduction and repair. Without it our bodies are unable to fully recover. Night after night of this, and your body starts to break down a bit. This leads to fatigue, lowered immune function, and a general lack of wellness.
When the sympathetics are in control, we also release hormones from our adrenal glands called epinephrine/norepinephrine. These are our stress hormones, and serve to increase blood pressure, heart rate etc. Again, if we are locked in fight or flight, these are being released all the time. Eventually we reach adrenal burnout, and then when we actually need these hormones, they aren’t released properly. So, we are tired, and when we try to access the reserve gas tank, it is empty.
An upper neck misalignment can irritate the the sympathetic nerves and stimulate them. This leads to an imbalance, and locks us into fight or flight. Many times we can trace the fatigue back to a neck trauma. A slip, fall, car accident or some other injury. Once corrected the nerve fibers begin to behave properly, and the body returns to balance. Improved sleep is one of the number one things I hear about on the follow up visit. Patients that have been under upper cervical care will often tell you their energy has never been higher.
It is certainly important to have a good bedtime routine, eat properly, and get some exercise. Those are all important in overall health, but if the system that controls everything we do and everything we are isn’t running properly, we are in trouble.
Who knows…..good sleep and endless energy might be just an adjustment away. The only way to find out though is to come in to Upper Cervical Health Centers of Fort Myers for a free consultation. Give us a call!
Our bodies perform non-stop functions that we don’t think about. When is the last time you focused on making your heart beat, your kidneys filter, or your pancreas to produce insulin?
Thankfully our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) handles all that. I don’t know about you, but my calendar is pretty full, and I don’t want to add on making sure my blood brain barrier has all the troops in the right place.
The ANS is broken into two parts—the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Simply put, the fight or flight and the rest or digest. While you are walking, working, dealing with the day, the fight or flight is up and running. When it is time to sit down to a nice meal or go to sleep, the rest or digest should take over. A healthy body needs to be in both states, when appropriate. The problem comes when we are stuck in one or the other long term.
One of the most common things I see in my practice is Sympathetic Dominance. People are almost endlessly locked into fight or flight mode. This can contribute to a number of issues.
Some of the most common:
If your body never relaxes, it doesn’t have a chance to rest or reset itself. This leads to adrenal burnout, which can cause severe fatigue, other hormonal imbalances, reduced immune function and in general you may feel like your body is run down but your brain is in overload.
Dr. BJ Palmer, the developer of the Chiropractic profession, stated that an upper cervical (upper neck) misalignment can cause superior (brain) congestion and inferior (body) starvation. Which is a great description for so many that are dealing with sympathetic dominance.
A slip, fall, car accident, or other incident can cause one of the upper neck bones to slip out of its normal position and get locked there. This incorrect position leads to bad information to the nervous system and can lead to the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system being constantly stimulated. This leads to sympathetic dominance, and the rest or digest side of things never takes over. The body begins to tire, the immune system declines, and as we have learned in recent research, the brain can even begin to become toxic.
Until the bone is returned to its proper position, and range of motion the body is likely to be stuck in fight or flight. Once corrected, one of the first comments a new patient usually makes is “I had the best night of sleep I have had in a really long time.” The body immediately begins to try to rest and heal when it can finally get into rest mode.
Lifestyle, environment, and nutrition can all contribute to sympathetic dominance, but the upper cervical misalignment should always be evaluated as a potential cause if you are suffering from this condition. In chiropractic we like to say “the power is on” following an adjustment, but in this case we need to see if your power has been stuck in the on position for too long.
Dr. Lee Angle
Dr. Lee Angle is originally from southern West Virginia. After having his life changed through Upper Cervical Care he chose to pursue it as a career. He has been practicing Upper Cervical Chiropractic for over nine years. Dr. Angle previously worked as a certified personal trainer. This background allows him to educate his patients on proper movement and exercises to speed their recovery and enhance their Upper Cervical Care.