When Atlas/C1 is out of alignment, why is it the only vertebra adjusted?

What is the Atlas/C1?

The cervical spine (neck) contains 7 bones or vertebrae labeled C1 – C7. The C1 vertebra, known as the Atlas, is the first bone in the spinal column.

It's named Atlas, after the Greek Titan who was condemned to hold up the world on his shoulders (in this case your head).

More than just a foundation for support, the atlas bone itself is perhaps the most important vertebrae of the body. It’s home to a complex bundle of nerves and critical vertebral arteries, and it’s the point responsible for bearing the entire weight of the skull.

In the myth, Atlas must be careful to always hold the world still and strong, or everything would come crashing down.

He did this by balancing the world perfectly on his back.

Your Atlas/C1 vertebrae has been charged with the same task – it must hold your head strong and still, otherwise problems with balance and alignment will absolutely develop, affecting the ENTIRE spine below.

When there is a misalignment of the Atlas/C1, the communication between the brain and the rest of the body is disturbed leading to a structural and functional deficit.

These misalignments may be present from birth (even in the case of a delivery by Caesarean section) and may be worsened by traumas such as whiplash and crash collisions throughout a lifetime.

The Atlas or C1 has a direct influence on the brain stem.  The brain stem controls many important systems within the body like the cardiovascular system, respiratory system and the one that upper cervical chiropractors evaluate, your postural or spinal muscles.

These muscles start at the back of your skull and all the way down your hips.  They work hard for you every day and keep you upright and moving.  However, when the Atlas/C1 is out of alignment, this causes tension at the brain stem. These create aberrant signals that result in what seems like a “muscle spasm” that affects one side of the body, causing unlevel shoulders and hips and even a forward head posture.  

One of the first signs that we find when the atlas is misaligned is a short leg.  This is the explanation from a cited article within a study called Craniocervical chiropractic procedures – a précis of upper cervical chiropractic (1): “This screening procedure does not look for an anatomic short leg but apparent asymmetry of observed leg length, describing a functional short or “contractured leg”. Presence of an apparent short leg requires further patient evaluation to determine the need for UC intervention. The proposed mechanism originates from pelvic obliquity resulting from reflexive balancing of neurologic insult created by atlas misalignment.”

In other words, one side of your body is in a big muscle spasm due to the “pressure” placed on the brain stem due to the atlas misalignment, where the postural muscles get their information on how to properly function.  Our goal at HealthWorks is to precisely re-align the atlas so that this information center can function properly.

I like to think of the spinal column like a train.  The atlas is the engineer of the train, the neck is the engine and the low back/sacrum is the caboose!  (Bet you’ll never look at a spine the same way again!).  What happens if the engineer of a train decides to take the engine off the track?  What happens to the rest of the cars and the caboose?  Right!  The ENTIRE train goes off the track!  By aligning the atlas/C1, this allows the rest of the “cars” to become better aligned, the postural muscles to become more balanced and the leg length and the hips to show even.  

Another way to visualize how important atlas/C1 alignment is if the atlas/C1 is the master breaker in your breaker box that controls all the electricity in your house.  What happens when you turn the master breaker off?  Right!  Your entire house no longer functions properly!  As humans, our home for our time here on this planet is our body…which brings me to another topic, one concerning efficiency. 

Many patients become upset when their atlas is out of alignment and rightfully so!  Their master breaker has been “turned off”!  I get it, however, the order of operations to restore normal function of your “home” must happen in order to regain balance.  Would you try to use your dishwasher or blow dryer before you flipped your master breaker?  No!  Of course not!  It simply doesn’t work that way and neither does your body.

After an atlas/C1 alignment, it takes several hours to unwind the spasmed muscles and to regain normal balance.  Does it make sense to try and adjust the rest of the segments of the spinal column if the muscles are contracted like this due to an atlas/C1 misalignment? 

How much proper motion and movement do you think can be achieved in a spine that needs to unwind? Understanding that the body needs to have the time to achieve this balance is sacred in the upper cervical chiropractic umbrella of techniques.

For the Nerds…yeah, you know who you are! 

“The intermedius nucleus of the medulla: A potential site for the integration of cervical information and the generation of autonomic responses.” Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy November 2009 (38) pp. 166-175.(2) 

Authors: Edwards, Ian J., Deuchars, Susan A., Deuchars, Jim.

This white paper discusses the significance of the 2009 study published in the Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy called “The intermedius nucleus of the medulla: A potential site for the integration of cervical information and the generation of autonomic responses.”

This study helps clarify why upper cervical subluxations negatively influence the autonomic nervous system and contribute to visceral and systemic dysfunction. Though the findings may seem rather elementary or non-amusing, they are quite impressive. The findings research like this help explain why upper cervical Chiropractors have seen such great results in the health of their patients over the past 120 years.

Findings were as follows:

  • The intermedius nucleus (IMN) is located in the medulla and receives afferent input from the neck
    musculature, vestibular nuclei, nucleus tractus solitarius(NTS), and the tongue.
  • The NTS plays a direct role in controlling the cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastro-intestinal
  • The IMN sends monosynaptic information to the NTS and hypoglossal nucleus.
    Outputs from the IMN to the NTS and hypoglossal nucleus suggest a role in coordination of tongue
    movements and autonomic responses.
  • The authors of this study suggest that the greatest influence of the IMN is to the autonomic circuits
    relating to the cardiovascular system.
  • Low-threshold stimulation of the nerves entering the C1 and C2 dorsal root ganglion (i.e. an
    adjustment) elicit changes in the activity of both sympathetic and respiratory nerves.
    Proprioceptive information (from the spine) plays a role in modulating the autonomic nervous
  • Neurons in the IMN are under the influence of sensory afferent information arising from the neck
  • The IMN receives afferent input from the vestibular nuclei, and the vestibular nuclei receive
    monosynaptic (direct) input from the upper cervical spine.
  • The IMN plays a role in generation of autonomic responses (breathing, digestion, heart, energy) to
    movements of the head, especially since it is monosynaptically(directly) connected to the NTS.


Upper cervical corrective care is a logical, effective, safe and scientifically proven procedure in the Chiropractic profession. It is designed to restore Atlas/C1 Alignment (Body Balance) to remove interference at the point where the head and neck join, in order to re-activate the body’s natural self-healing process by relieving pain and discomfort within the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems. Anytime our body experiences pain, this causes extreme stress within and can cascade into other inflammatory issues or can even exacerbate existing health conditions.

Chiropractic and medical experts agree that electrical and chemical messages control, monitor and maintain all body functions. These messages also direct all body healing. These messages leave the brain by way of the brainstem, pass through the top two bones in the neck (C1/C2), down the spinal cord, and throughout the entire nervous system to all parts of the body. 

Atlas/C1 misalignment can cause interference at the point where the head and neck join and disrupt or distort the flow of these vital health and healing messages to any part of the body. Disrupted or distorted brain messages will allow pain and other problems to develop. At HealthWorks our objective is to restore Atlas/C1 alignment and reactivate efficient flow of neuromuscular and musculoskeletal health and healing messages to the affected part of the body so its natural self-healing process can regain and maintain optimal nervous system health. 

When an Atlas/C1 misalignment is corrected and body balance is restored so healing messages can flow uninterrupted to the affected area, muscles begin to relax immediately, blood and oxygen circulation is increased, and the body’s natural self-healing process begins. When there is pain or suffering, always check for Atlas/C1 misalignment to determine if the brain is efficiently communicating with all parts of the body. 

Any part of the body that cannot communicate efficiently with the brain will develop health problems. Therefore, it would be logical to say, the proper diagnosis for health problems that respond to the Upper Cervical Correction is “Head/Neck Misalignment.” 

Here’s a list of common issues that respond very well to Upper Cervical Correction:

  • Arthritis
  • Arm pain
  • Athletic injuries
  • Back pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Headaches (all types)
  • Herniated disc
  • Hip pain
  • Knee pain
  • Leg pain
  • Loss of sleep due to pain
  • low back pain
  • Migraine headaches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Neck pain
  • Neuralgia
  • Neuritis
  • Numbness
  • Pain (chronic)
  • Restlessness
  • Scoliosis
  • Shoulder pain
  • Tendonitis
  • Tight muscles
  • Tingling Sensations
  • T.M.J. Syndrome
  • Whiplash

And so many, many more!

You see, an atlas/C1 adjustment is the most comprehensive and “full-body” adjustment you’ll ever receive!

Imagine, just one tiny bone at the top of your neck could cause all these symptoms AND one very precise and gentle adjustment could help you feel like you’re no longer tied up in knots.  SIGN ME UP!

Having a thorough chiropractic exam is vital to make sure what you are experiencing is a chiropractic issue or if we need to consult another practitioner.  Without this knowledge both you and your chiropractor will not be able to be fully informed on how to proceed with your care.

Our promise to you

HealthWorks is dedicated to comprehensive and specific approach to taking care of spinal and nervous system needs. Let us help you find out how taking care of the most important system in the body will create optimal health that will last a lifetime!  

If we find we’re not the best to help with your condition, we promise to refer you to someone who is.


  1.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4486989/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0891061809000027


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