Blog 2: What is health? The UC Specific perspective
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
From an Upper Cervical Specific perspective, the intrinsic characteristic of health is adaptability -- the body's ability to respond and adapt to stressors. Quite simply, when the body cannot successfully adapt, symptoms and dis-ease, to use a chiropractic term, set in. The body can be in a degenerative, maladaptive state of health for months or even years before symptoms manifest. Therefore the absence of symptoms is not indicative of health. In Upper Cervical, you'll often hear the phrase, "It's not about how you feel, it's about how you function".
An upper cervical subluxation, which I've described before as a pervasive and insidious problem in our population, causes the body to go into a sympathetic state. Our autonomic nervous system is divided into three branches -- the two dominant being sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic branch engages the body's stress response or "fight or flight" mode while the parasympathetic counteracts it with "rest and digest" functions. When we sense danger or pain, the body's resources are allocated to sympathetic functions -- heart rate goes up, blood rushes to the extremities, adrenaline floods our system in preparation for escape or combat. If you stick your hand in a tub of ice water, your heart rate will immediately uptick. When you're driving and a car suddenly comes out of nowhere on the cross street in front of you, blood rushes to your arms and legs. These are all examples of sympathetic responses to pain or danger. During these times, parasympathetic-dominant processes are inhibited -- it's not time for rest, digestion, sex or fighting infection.
An upper cervical subluxation creates a neurologic, biomechanic and physiological compromise that the body cannot overcome. As a result, function is impaired, many times accompanied by pain, and this leads to a state of chronic sympathetic overdrive. Clinically, this is what we see with patients. They come in with all kinds of chief complaints -- headaches, back pain, sciatica -- usually musculoskeletal in nature because we're chiropractors and that's usually what they think to come to us for. And often these are accompanied by comorbidities such as high blood pressure or anxiety -- all of which contribute to a sympathetic state. But we also notice that parasympathetic functions are often impaired, either because of chronic sympathetic overdrive or as a direct result of neurological compromise, so they usually also have trouble with digestion, insomnia, sexual function or yes, they may also get sick a lot. After a few weeks of care, it's not uncommon for a patient to tell me, "I didn't mention this before, but ever since I started coming here my reflux is gone. I didn't tell you at the start of care because I didn't think it was related". All nerves, including the vagus nerve which innervates most of your visceral organs, including lungs, heart, stomach, liver, intestines, run through the upper cervical area -- the vagus nerve runs directly anterior to the C1 vertebra so imagine the compromise of a perpetually stuck 3 millimeter anterior misalignment.
When we're chronically in this sympathetic state, we become very vulnerable to stressors. All day, every day, our body is subjected to physical, emotional, chemical and hormonal stressors. As an example, when you have an upper cervical subluxation your muscles are in a tight, contracted adaptation, and likely have been for years, making you more susceptible to stressors such as the weight of a back pack or playing basketball or emotional stress. As a result, you'll feel acute back pain. Likewise, we may be unable to deal with emotional stress as a result of impaired neurology, physiology and thermodynamics which can manifest as physical pain or anxiety or depression. For decades, research has shown that if we're in a chronic sympathetic state, adrenaline floods our system and attaches to glucocorticoid receptors of our white blood cells inhibiting our immune system's ability to fight infection. As I explained before, when the body is in "fight or flight" mode, it's not time to fight germs. This of course makes you more susceptible to getting sick. Think of the implications to the situation that we're currently living through. These are just a few examples of stressors the body deals with every second of every day.
So when we run our objective tests to determine if the C1 and C2 vertebrae are in proper alignment, ultimately what we're trying to figure out is one thing above all else: is the brain in control?
If the brain is in control, the body can adapt. If it's not, it can't -- it's that simple. Biomechanically, we look at leg lengths. If the body is able to relay afferent and efferent nerve signals to and from the brain, the muscles are in a balanced, relaxed state and the leg lengths are perfectly even and more importantly, show no motion with stressors. We check input up the dorsal and spinocerebellar tracts of the spinal cord; we check the joints of the upper cervical spine in motion; we check the integrity of those joints and stability of the pelvis which is a very sensitive test. Leg lengths should remain balanced with no motion through all tests -- not through some or most -- but all and not for a few seconds or a few minutes post-adjustment but for weeks and months and years at a time. What that tells us is the central nervous system is compromise-free and able to keep the musculature balanced regardless of stressor. In the presence of an upper cervical subluxation, the body is in torsion and the leg lengths are all over the place, indicating that try as it may, the Upper Cervical Subluxation Complex has created a biomechanic/neurologic compromise, that the brain cannot overcome, leading to chronic pain.
Secondly, we run a Tytron scan that gives us insight into the body's physiology. When we're subluxated and function is impaired, heat readings of the vasodilation and vasoconstriction of the top layer of the skin which are under the control of the autonomic nervous system will be different from one region of the body to the other. When we're clear and in alignment, those differences disappear and we get a straight Delta-T scan. So when the leg checks are negative, the scan will be negative -- along with pain on palpation patterns which is the final test I use. And of course, at the beginning of care we take specialized imaging, either digital x-ray or cone-beam CT, to assess the start anatomy and show patients their misalignment.
So these are all checks that we use to answer the question of whether an adjustment is needed on a particular visit and ultimately, whether the brain is in control and able to direct adaptation.
As we say in UC Specific, "holding is healing". Adjustments should last months at a time and when you're clear and holding, the body is in a state of adaptation and as a result, symptoms go away, which of course is what patients care about.