Muscle Imbalance of the Upper Cervical Spine
The upper cervical spine is made of very intricate bones, ligaments, and muscles. The muscles of the upper cervical spine are the most sensitive muscles in the entire body. In fact, some of them do not even contract to move the bones. Their sole purpose is to send information to the brain about the position the bones of the upper cervical spine.
If there is a misalignment of the bones of the upper neck, those muscles will become stretched unevenly and send imbalanced information to the brain. When the misalignment stays for long periods of time, it can begin to change the function of the brain. This is called dysafferentation. The main three things that are affected by this muscle imbalance are balance, posture, and the limbic system.
Our sense of balance comes from three separate systems: the eyes, the inner ears (cochlear function), and our proprioception (also known as spatial awareness) Proprioception is the ability for the brain to know where the body is in space at all times. It comes from nerves, called proprioceptors, that send information from the muscles, tendons, joins, ligaments and disks of the spine.
Information from the eyes, the inner ears, and the proprioceptors are sent to the posture control center called the vestibular nucleus. This is located in the brainstem which is found at the bottom of the brain and the top of the spinal cord. Although the inner ear is often considered the center of balance control, 75% of all information related to balance comes from proprioceptors. Of all the areas of proprioception, the upper cervical spine is the most sensitive. This means that problems with the upper neck can seriously affect your balance and can sometimes be the cause of conditions like vertigo and Meniere’s disease.
The posture control center in the brainstem also collects information from the upper neck as well as the eyes and inner ears to figure out which muscles to use to keep you upright. If the input to the brainstem is balanced, the signals controlling your posture muscle will be balanced, and your posture will appear normal and even. When the information being sent to the brain becomes imbalanced because the muscles are being stretched unevenly, it causes the brain to create imbalance in your posture.
Misalignments of the upper neck can cause the spine to twist and bend because of imbalanced muscle control. It is common to see a tilted head, a forward head posture, uneven shoulders, uneven hips, and a slight limp. When the misalignment is left long enough, more severe conditions can develop such as scoliosis.
The information that is collected in the brainstem from the muscles of the upper neck also have direct influence on the limbic system. The limbic system is the emotional center of the brain. The limbic system also connects to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls most of our autonomic (automatic) functions of the body including heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, urination etc.
Normally, our body remains in a rest-and-digest state (called parasympathetic tone) where the body can do general housekeeping functions like make repairs, digest food, and eliminate any wastes that are not needed. When we get frightened or stressed, we go into a fight-or-flight state (called sympathetic tone) that will release hormones to increase the heart rate, blood pressure, shut down digestion, and prevent urination and dedication. This is the “adrenaline rush” you feel when something seems dangerous or could harm you. It helps in danger but does not help in daily activity.
A misalignment of the upper neck can put your brain and body into this fight-or-flight state. Unlike being frightened, the flight-or flight state caused by a misalignment will not shut off until the misalignment is corrected. This long term change in the nerve system function can lead to:
- Decrease immune function
- Decrease cognitive function
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle tension
- Poor Sleep
Many of these symptoms can be labeled at individual conditions, however, the pattern of these symptoms point to a more neurological cause of the symptoms. One more recently defined condition that matches this pattern is dysautonomia.
Ready to understand the cause?
Careful evaluation of your upper cervical spine by one of the Pierce Clinic doctors can help you find out if a misalignment is causing your health issues. If a misalignment is found, a precise correction of the misalignment can be made using a gentle sound wave adjustment, called the Advanced Orthogonal procedure.