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Dynamic Chiropractic – July 29, 2011, Vol. 29, Issue 16
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dynamicchiropractic.com >> Headaches & Migraines

Anterior Atlas Complex and Associated Disorders: Clinical Observations

By Joseph D. Kurnik, DC

I have observed anterior atlas fixations to be associated with a variety of interesting symptoms. In my experience, such anterior fixations are usually observed on the right side. To attract your interest, I will immediately list some of the primary symptoms and associations I have observed for more than 30 years:

  • Right-sided headaches with pain and paresthesia into the head and face. There is often pain or pressure behind or within the right eye or both eyes. The inner eyelids may exhibit sensitivity and odd symptoms.
  • There may be facial palsy, some loss of facial motor control and alteration of facial sensitivity on the right side.
  • Right-sided posterior cervical pain or soreness and sub-occipital soreness.
  • Decreased cervical ranges of motion, especially in rotation to the right.
  • Pain in the molars on the right side.
  • Changes in eye lubrication on the right side.
  • Mental confusion, fogginess or dizziness.
  • Increase in blood pressure.
  • Feeling of depression or compression.
  • Frequent associated left atlas posterior lateral fixations.
  • Upper cervical skin lesions, like pimples at the sub-occipital region.
  • Motor strength loss in the legs, such as the ankle extensors, flexors and evertors, upon testing. Even hamstrings and hip flexors may be affected.
  • Blocks in sacroiliac functioning with motion palpation testing; blocks involve upward and downward motion of the ilia. Also: associated increased or altered lumbar tension and strain at the gluteals, TFL, hamstrings and hip flexors.
  • Since the upper parasympathetics affect the GI tract, alterations in GI activity may be noticed.

The list goes on. Why? Because of the level of the atlas, there is more movement than at any other spinal level, and the spinal canal is the largest in diameter at that level. This association can contribute to spinal cord pressure, tensions and/or dural altered tensions.

Examination of the occiput, C-1 and C-2 levels by motion palpation is a key in identifying occiput/C-1/C-2 mechanical dysfunction (fixations). In my practice, I have utilized supine motion analysis. This differs from the upright analysis of Drs. Faye and Gillet. This is not a disagreement in procedure, but just another way to proceed. For me (and some others), supine analysis takes the muscle tension out of the picture and allows for more relaxed evaluation of joint motion.

Analysis of joint motion at the occiput/C-1/C-2 levels is another article in itself. (A future article will discuss procedure methodology for determination of upper cervical mechanical restorations associated with the symptoms described earlier.)

In general, atlas fixation determination is done with motion palpation in the supine position. The atlas fixation must be divided into two divisions. The atlas may fixate between the occiput and itself and/or it may fixate between the C-1/C-2 level. Motion analytic tests can be performed to determine such mechanical blockades. MRI and X-ray cannot determine the finalities and delicacies of altered joint restriction, especially with coupled motions. The human factor of the combination of data and feel exceeds data alone.

Correction of anterior fixations can be done manually or with instrument. My experience has shown that instrument adjusting for the anterior atlas fixation is the most comfortable, versatile with age and condition, and overall most effective. I have utilized a multi-thrust instrument with variable force and speed of impulse for such adjustments.

Each condition must be carefully evaluated. However, instrument correction on the anterior C-1 fixation is safe and effective. It accomplishes the release of tension and blockage between C-1/C-2 and occiput/C-1 levels.


Dr. Joseph Kurnik practices in Torrance, Calif. He is a former columnist and longtime contributor to DC; previous articles are available online at www.dynamicchiropractic.com.

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