My Upper Cervical Chiropractic Experience

CERVICAL SPINE

Upper Cervical chiropractic at university

Since my early chiropractic career back at uni I was aware of Upper Cervical Specific chiropractic techniques like NUCCA, Blair, Grostic, Atlas orthogonal etc (there are a bunch of them). There were chiropractors who chose (for reasons I didn’t understand) to focus their entire career on the alignment of only 1 part of the spine: the head and upper 2 neck vertebrae. These chiropractors published case studies of their miracle stories, such as improvement in deafness or blindness or some other amazingly unlikely recovery story. In fact most ‘miracle’ cases published by chiropractors achieved the results they were reporting after adjusting the neck. But all chiropractors have their ‘miracle stories’ to tell so I had no reason to think upper cervical chiropractic was special. Through my 5 years at university I had very little exposure to this niche within chiropractic, in fact the only teaching we had on this was from a chiropractor who specialized in checking not only the entire spine, but all of the other joints also from the toes, elbows, fingers, jaw and also organ adjusting. He didn’t practice upper cervical at all. And with so many amazing techniques to help people, why would I want to be limited to only 1 or 2 joints? I completed university ready to heal the world with my assortment of techniques and forgot all about upper cervical specific techniques.

The study that changed my career

Fast forward to 2016.  I am a voracious reader of chiropractic research.  Upper cervical chiropractic kept popping up.  There was the famous blood pressure study by Dr Marshall Dickholtz Sn.[1] There were a series of cases of deafness recovery, blindness, digestive conditions resolving after adjustments etc.  All very impressive but most chiropractors regardless of their techniques notice improvements in all these non musculo-skeletal conditions on occasion. But most techniques would not report these outcomes consistently or predictably. It was 1 particular study that caused me to sit up and take notice.  I was listening to a program discussing the latest in chiropractic research when 1 paper struck a chord with me.[2]  300 consecutive cases of Meniere’s (a severely debilitating condition of the ear the worst symptom being awful balance and vertigo) had dramatic improvement under chiropractic management and the improvements lasted at the 6 year follow-up.  I had seen plenty of people over the years who had Meniere’s.  They would come to me for help with their neck pain or headaches or low back pain.  Those things would get better but the Meniere’s symptoms had never improved under my care.  I had never thought that could be improved with chiropractic care. This study demonstrated predictable, consistent results in a non-musculoskeletal condition – and those results remained after 6 years.    I checked who did this study expecting a large university or research group due to the size of the study and saw there was only 1 author.  A chiropractor.  Who was he?  What was he doing to get these amazing results?  His name was Dr Michael Burcon and he was doing an upper cervical specific technique, similar to the Blair technique.  Why hadn’t my adjustments changed these patients dizziness symptoms but his had?  Was there possibly a better way of adjusting the neck?  That thought kept nagging me over the next couple of years at which point I began researching Upper Cervical Specific techniques in my spare time.  I read about Nucca, atlas orthogonal and grostic.  They certainly sounded promising but something was missing.  It wasn’t until I turned my focus to learning about the Blair technique that I became really excited.  1 thing in particular about the Blair technique excited me.  The protracto view where the joint between the skull and neck misalignment can not only be seen, but measured.  It really made sense.  I understood how he was achieving those results.  I also understood why the commonly used chiropractic techniques I had learnt were not able to replicate what he was doing.  And the most exciting part was that the incredible results were not specific for ear problems, in fact they were not for ear problems at all.  They were for the neck.  And more specifically where the head meets the neck.  The neck affects an awful lot of important things in the body. 

Protracto View: Blair upper cervical chiropractic

Ways that cranio-cervical junction misalignments cause problems

Problems at that junction can muck up health in a few key ways:

  1. Brain stem and spinal cord Irritation. Inflammation/torsion/pressure to the spinal cord and brain stem which transmit the messages from the brain and back to the body. 
  2. CSF Fluid flow. Narrowing the canal out of the head (foramen magnum) resulting in fluid build-up in the head where the fluid is produced causing pressure (including in the ears) and preventing brain nutrition and waste removal
  3. Blood flow. Obstruction of blood flowing into and out of the head by misaligned bones pressing into or reducing the room for nearby blood vessels such as the jugular vein.
  4. Posture. When the head is not on properly the head tilts, the shoulders rotate, one hip rides up to keep the eyes level.
  5. Nerve irritation. Sympathetic nerves when irritated can cause muscles in blood vessels to contract, limited blood to the brain, eyes, etc

Back to study – This time upper cervical chiropractic

Problems at that junction are really, really common because of whiplash, hits to the head, bad posture etc.  At that point I realized I needed to learn upper cervical specific chiropractic and Blair technique made the most sense to me.  I was willing to travel to the USA to learn if need be, as I knew very few chiropractors practiced upper cervical in Australia, let alone be qualified to instruct.  As luck would have it out of the handful of Blair technique qualified instructors in the world 1 was in Australia, in Brisbane.  So I made contact with him and booked to join the next seminar.   

My first Upper Cervical Specific Blair technique adjustment

As part of my introduction to Upper Cervical Specific (Blair technique) Dr Jeff Hannah, the instructor suggested I get assessed and adjusted.  That was not why I was there, but why not.  The analysis was unlike anything I had learnt.  X-rays were taken and measured by Dr Hannah with a level of tedium that impressed me.  Multiple thermographic scans were run on my neck and my posture was assessed.  Not once but 3 times over 2 days in order to establish my “pattern”.  A “pattern” is a series of tests performed that indicate the need for an upper neck adjustment.  This pattern is crucial to establish so that the doctor knows when an adjustment is needed and just as importantly when one is not needed.  An adjustment is only given when the pattern is present.

When he was satisfied he knew I needed an adjustment and he had information about my “pattern” so he would know that the adjustment worked, or if it would need to be done again in the future he gave me my 1st upper cervical specific Blair adjustment.  I felt very little, no clicks and pops, just a quick flick behind my left ear.  I lay down and rested.  When I got up he rechecked the thermal scan and my posture and noted there were changes.  I didn’t notice much, until I went to move my head.  Unbeknownst to Dr Hannah, I had suffered a neck injury 3 years earlier from crossfit and damaged a disc in my neck.  Being a chiropractor I had seen many chiropractors who I know are good a their craft as well as physios and massage for relief from the pain I had in my neck and arm.  Over time the arm felt ok but I was left with neck pain whenever I moved side to side and a lot less movement than I had before.  I put this down to the disc bulge and resigned myself to that was just how it was.  After that adjustment my neck immediately could move freely all directions with no pain or restriction.  That lasted about 2 days and the same pain set back in.  At another seminar a few months later Dr Hannah adjusted me again and that pain and restriction has not come back since (4 years ago at time of writing).  That further cemented my theory there was a better way of adjusting the neck.

Integrating upper cervical chiropractic care into practice

After completing the fundamental, intermediate and advanced Blair Upper Cervical technique training in 2019 I began introducing it into my day to day practice.  Initially just on patients with chronic neck issues.  It did not take me long to see results on these patients were often, although not always, far better than I had been achieving before.  I remember a lady who I saw for about the 4th time in about 10 days with severe neck pain who was begging me to “crack my neck” cause it would give her 1-2 days of temporary relief.  I asked if I could try another approach.  After the upper cervical specific adjustment she stood up and said “the pain’s gone”.  I assessed her scan and posture which looked a lot better.  Her neck pain resolved in a way it never had before using regular chiropractic care.  I had a few patients who also had Meniere’s and asked them if they would mind me using a gentler, different approach.  All reported their balance improve – I had never heard that before from them after previous sessions.  In the next 12 months implementing upper cervical specific chiropractic I saw more “miracle cases” where nothing else had helped than I had seen in my previous years.  This included a young man who had been in a nasty car accident years earlier where he suffered multiple injuries including many broken bones and slight brain injury.  He also damaged 1 eye where he could still see but could not move the eye at all.  After his adjustment his damaged eye began to water profusely and the next day when he came back the eye was moving normally again.  I noticed another phenomena where patients who had been regulars, needing to come in every week or month were not coming in for months.  The symptoms that caused them to feel the need to show up often were going away and not returning – or taking a lot longer to return.

Opening my clinic

2023 is my 20 year anniversary of being a chiropractor. Its also the year I open Marmion Precision Chiropractic, a clinic set up to provide Blair Upper Cervical Specific chiropractic care, along with Gonstead technique and functional medicine. This is a unique blend of approaches for spine and lifestyle health care based on what I know works to get patients the results they are looking for. I am very excited to offer upper cervical chiropractic specific care (Blair technique) to my community and hopefully raise awareness to many outside my reach to look into finding someone local who can help them.

References:
  1. Bakris, G., Dickholtz, M., Meyer, P. et al. Atlas vertebra realignment and achievement of
    arterial pressure goal in hypertensive patients: a pilot study. J Hum Hypertens 21, 347–352
    (2007).
  2. Burcon, M, Health Outcomes Following Cervical Specific Protocol in 300 Patients with
    Meniere’s Followed Over Six Years. J Upper Cervical Chiropractic Research, June 2, (2016)