June is National Scoliosis Month. Scoliosis is an abnormal turning or twisting of the spine that usually results in a “C” or “S” shaped curve of the spinal column. Scoliosis is either classified as congential, idiopathic or secondary- with idiopathic being the most common, making up 85% of cases. Congenital scoliosis results from vertebral anomalies found at birth. Idiopathic scoliosis results from an unknown medical cause and is further categorized into infantile, juvenile, adolescent, or adult. Secondary scoliosis results from other neuromuscular conditions such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy, or syndromes such as Chiari malformation.
The spine, or vertebral column normally has three main curves along its structure and shape. Looking at the spine from the side, two curves bend backward- found in the neck or cervical and low back or lumbar region; and one bends forward at the middle or thoracic region. The ones that bend back are called lordotic curves and the one that bends forward is called a kyphotic curve. These curves help distribute the weight of the spine and help give it its mobility.
For a spine with no abnormally shaped vertebrae, the spine can bend, twist and turn all within their normal articulating joints. All the bones of the back, except for a few, have interlocking joints that prevent them from losing their proper position with the one above, below or both. Very similar to links of a chain: each link has a little freedom of movement, but only within the confines of the two rings it’s attached to on either end. The exception to the rule is found at the base of the skull and the upper cervical spine: the occipito-atlanto-axial region of the spine. Again, think of a chain, but this time the chain is only tightly secured at one end to a wall while the other end is not fixed and is free moving. Picture yourself picking up the unfixed end and moving it from side to side, up and down, and in all different directions. Visualize how the rest of the chain bends, twists and turns to adapt to the movement you place on it. Your arm moving the chain represents how the upper cervical region of the spine functions structurally. Where the head and upper neck go, the rest of the body is soon to follow.
If the upper cervical spine misaligns outside of its normal position and puts added pressure on the brainstem, spinal cord and surrounding tissues, this is called a vertebral subluxation. Whether an acute or chronic subluxation, the rest of the spine and head adapt to it in an attempt to help relieve tension on the spinal cord.
To compensate for a vertebral subluxation, adaptations arise along the spine and surrounding tissues. Let’s say that the atlas bone, the uppermost bone of your neck slips right of its normal position and puts pressure on your brainstem. To compensate for that abnormal position and to relieve some of the tension in the spine, the head might tilt up on the right. If you ever had a corn or blister on your foot, you probably altered the way you walk or stand so you don’t put any more added pressure on that blister to irritate it- the same thing is occurring with the head due to the irritation on the brainstem. Now your nerve system uses your eyes to see the world. The nerve system senses that your head is tilted up and has to do something about it so it can see the world on a level field. To compensate for the head tilt, it will usually raise the opposite shoulder. Because the shoulder is higher on one side, it now needs to compensate for that by raising up the opposite hip. What do you think your spine now looks like now? Instead of being all neatly stacked upon each other supporting the load evenly, certain parts of your spine are working unevenly. This uneven support results in muscle imbalances and abnormal movements throughout the rest of the body. Scoliotic curves along the spine can develop as a result of a vertebral subluxation. This uneven contortion of the spine progressively puts wear and tear on your spine. Long before any structural change is noticed in the spine, functional changes have occurred but are a lot more discreet in their presentation.
A subluxation irritates the brainstem and nerve system and interferes with its potential to function at 100%. If the brainstem is functioning at less than 100%, it causes less energy to reach its end product: that end product can be the heart, kidneys, lung or a muscle of the back since every organ, gland and tissue of the body has a connecting nerve tract from the brainstem. We now have depleted nerve supply. For an organ or gland to work properly, it must have full electrical potential or mental impulse. A subluxation cuts down on that electrical potential. Some possible presentations of this depleted function could be irritability, trouble sleeping, nausea, neurological deficits, indigestion, decreased concentration or muscle imbalance. Subtler than that, it could be a simple skipped heartbeat once in awhile. Unfortunately, most of the time, a subluxation doesn’t show any noticeable symptoms- just depleted function or chemical imbalance.
While the main objective of care at OHIO Specific Chiropractic is to help remove nerve system interference and not “straighten spines”, many patients have seen a reduction or complete resolution of scoliosis once the brainstem pressure is removed. Once the interference is removed, the body can now slowly remove the adaptations it developed to the subluxation.