Last week I dropped a bomb of a post on you guys, laying down the foundation for upper cervical care. If you have not read that post yet, you should, and you can find it here. The topic of upper cervical care is one that I find of utmost importance, because it addresses the nervous system, which is the underlying factor, the foundation, of all dysfunction. Muscular dysfunction is a dime a dozen type of thing, and it can present in a myriad of different ways. Lack of mobility in the joint capsule, lack of proper muscle length (aka lack of flexibility), general tightness in a muscle from a previous workout, knotted up muscular tissue, etc., are all different ways that dysfunction can be found in muscle. All of those issues can be addressed through various modalities, such as foam rolling and mobilizing, but unless the root cause is fixed, the issues will never be truly remedied. That’s where the nervous system comes in to play. The nervous system is responsible for a muscle’s normal activity. If the nervous system dysfunctions, then the muscles will as well. Nervous system dysfunction presents itself as muscular dysfunction, specifically muscular tightness. Resting muscular length changes when the nervous system dysfunctions, resulting in a shorter resting length and tight musculature.
This week I will talk about how you can figure out if you have nervous system dysfunction. Luckily, this post is much easier to read, and not quite as long as last week’s, so go ahead and thank me now for making your life easier. After all, that’s what I’m here for….
You’re right, too much sarcasm. But I digress. There are a few ways to tell if you have dysfunction resulting from an upper cervical misalignment. Obviously the best way is to go see your local upper cervical (NUCCA) chiropractor, but there are some at-home ways to tell as well . They are outlined below.
1. Weigh Yourself
Upper cervical misalignment results in the appearance of a short leg. The body compensates for this short leg by falling down onto it, and placing more pressure on one leg than on the other. During normal alignment, you should place 50% of your weight on each leg as long as you are standing upright in a balanced position, and not intentionally leaning to a side. To weight yourself, place two identical scales next to each other, but not touching, and stand evenly on the scales with your feet at about the same spot on each scale. The weights shown on each scale should be very close, within a few pounds difference. If you find you are putting a significant amount more weight on one foot compared to the other, chances are you have an upper cervical misalignment.
2. Line Yourself Up
As the body contorts to compensate for the misalignment, many parts of the body are pulled away from their normal horizontal alignment, causing unevenness at different areas of the body. To line yourself up, stand with your back against a level horizontal line chart. If you do not have access to a horizontal line chart you can tape a large sheet of paper to a wall, and make one, taking care to make each line perfectly level. Have a second person look at how your ears, outer corners of your eyes, and shoulders line up horizontally, and how your episternal notch (indent at the base of your neck where it meets your sternum) lines up vertically with the bottom of your chin. If any one of these points are off of level, chances are you are out of alignment. Alternatively, you can tape a large sheet of blank paper to a wall, and have a second person mark each point, and then measure them for horizontal levelness after – the episternal notch and chin measurement won’t work in this method. Note: Shoulder levelness may be affected by past shoulder injury, causing results using only shoulder levelness to lack accuracy.
3. Tightness in the Spine
This one can be really easy, and only requires yourself. Misalignment causes tightness on one side of the spine, and only on one side of the spine. Pay attention as you move around, bend over, flex and extend your back, and even palpate your back extensors – the muscles that run along each side of your spine. Is one side noticeably tighter than the other? If yes, and you cannot think of a good reason why this would be (aka you slept funny, did a bunch of side planks on one side only, etc.), then you may be out of alignment. Like I said, this method is easy, but with most things easy, it lacks accuracy compared to the others.
Secondary Checks: Best performed by a trained individual
4. Leg Length
As was mentioned before, leg length will differentiate if there is an upper cervical misalignment. Checking leg length, however, is much tougher than it seems. To check, lie down on a flat surface, preferably on a low lying chiropractic table, but anything slightly off the ground will do, as long as it can fit your entire body. Lying on the ground will suffice as well, but may further obscure measurements. Have a second person place slight pressure on the back of your heels, lightly cupping your ankles with fingers spread, and apply roughly five pounds of pressure upwards on the ankles. The second person then gently lines the feet up so that they are in the same position, and close enough to get a reading. Staring at the inner portion of the heel, if the feet do not line up, chances are one leg is shorter than the other.
5. Upper Neck Tenderness
An upper cervical misalignment may cause tenderness in the neck, as the ligaments are undergoing stress that is not normal. Have an individual gently palpate the upper neck near the base of the head and bottom of the ears. If you have a tender spot you may be out of alignment.
These quick tests are all good indicators that you may be out of alignment. By themselves, they do a better than decent job of predicting upper cervical misalignment, but taken together, they give a very accurate account of what kind of dysfunction may be happening at the atlas and axis vertebrae. If you think you may be out of alignment, don’t sit back and do nothing, find someone who can check you, and get the problem fixed. Dysfunction caused by upper cervical misalignment is not going to go away, and it’s not going to fix itself.
Until next time.