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Dynamic Chiropractic – July 16, 2001, Vol. 19, Issue 15

The Atlas Activate and Adjust Technique

By Michael Via, DC
Premise one: The "atlas activate and adjust" technique is a chiropractic procedure that reactivates or reconnects a dysfunctional or pathological body part's nervous system with the central nervous system via the master switch - the atlas vertebra.

Premise two: On occasion, a body part's nervous system either partially or totally disconnects from the central nervous system below the level of the atlas, which requires this dysfunctional body part's nervous system to be reactivated to the central nervous system, before the subluxated atlas is adjusted.

Premise three: Adjusting the subluxated atlas after reactivation reconnects the central nervous system with the dysfunctional body part's nervous system, which allows for the return of maximum adaptability or homeostasis.

Premise four: This procedure activates the mind and body to connect the diseased or dysfunctional syndrome with the causative vertebral subluxation complex.

Atlas Examination and Adjusting Procedure

A skilled palpation examination is utilized to determine normal tone or tension of the atlas in rotation versus abnormal tone, or tension of the atlas in rotation. The procedure is best done as follows:

Place the patient in a supine position, or face up. Contact the atlas transverse processes with fingertips (2,3) on the right and fingertips (2,3) on the left. Slightly - very slightly - rotate the atlas A-to-P and P-to-A. A normal flexibility can be determined by this skilled procedure. If an abnormal tension or tone of the atlas exists in A-to-P and P-to-A rotation, the adjustment is made by slightly increasing the rotation and holding until a relaxation or normal tone occurs. The correction can last from a few seconds to two minutes or more. Abnormal tone or tension of the atlas in A-to-P and P-to-A motion can have numerous causes. This paper will be restricted to traumatic past events.

Traumatic past events, such as rape; recurring nightmares; childhood injuries, physical or mental; etc., cause an abnormal tensing or change of the tone of the atlas in A-to-P and P-to-A rotation. Once the traumatic past event has been anchored or imprinted into the mind and body of the individual, the atlas will subluxate every time the traumatic past event is recalled. To stop the recurring subluxation and its associated physical trauma, adjust the atlas until a normal tone returns as the patient recalls the traumatic past event by:

  1. seeing the picture or pictures connected with the traumatic past event;


  2. talking about his experience of the traumatic past event; and


  3. experiencing the feelings of the traumatic past event.

After the subluxation has been corrected, the doctor is successful if the patient can think about the traumatic past event and the atlas tone remains normal and relaxed. The patient usually reports that the pictures and the feelings connected to the traumatic past event are gone. More importantly, the patient can remember the traumatic past event, but the chronic recurring atlas subluxation that existed prior to the adjustment has been permanently corrected. Here are some examples of the technique.

Afraid to Go to Sleep

A retired schoolteacher heard about my work and came to my office because she had trouble going to sleep every night. She became very anxious when it began to get dark and as bedtime approached. She had seen her medical physician for this and had prescription medication to take, but it was still a struggle for her to go to bed and go to sleep. She slept very fitfully and had had this difficulty for as long as she could remember. As we talked, she remembered that her mother would punish her as a small child by making her stay in a dark closet all day. It was a terrifying experience, and as she thought about it, her muscles became tense. I asked her to think about being shut in the closet, to see herself as a little girl and to feel once again the terrible feelings she had at that time. As she talked through the experience, I adjusted the atlas vertebra until the muscle tension was released and returned to normal muscle tone. She then reported that the picture was gone, along with the bad feelings associated with it. She later told me that she was able to go to bed and sleep without fear. She also said that she had stopped having acid reflux, which had been a problem for her in the past.

Depression and Back Pain

A woman in her 60s came to my office with complaints of depression and back pain. She was taking medication for the depression as prescribed by her medical physician, but the condition had been in existence for the past two years. Her depression had developed after her son had committed suicide, and she reported that her back pain had begun about the same time. She told me that she relived this horrible memory every single day, over and over. As she re-experienced this, her muscles became tense. As I adjusted the atlas vertebra, I encouraged her to concentrate on the picture that she saw when she thought about her son, to recall the emotions she had experienced as she faced her son's tragic death, and to talk through what she could remember.

As the muscle tension was released, the patient reported that the picture became fuzzy and faded along with the feelings she had. She was able to think about her son and the suicide without the physical trauma, and in a matter of days she recovered from her back pain and the depression.

Fear of Flying

A young woman came to my office for treatment and in the course of discussing her condition, it came to light that she had a fear of flying. Her husband wanted to take a trip to Hawaii, but the thought of being in a plane for hours terrified her. As she talked, she realized that her fear dated back to 1970 when there had been a terrible airplane crash in her town, where the casualties were the local university's football team, coaches, and team doctors along with some fans of the team. The television coverage of this disaster was graphic. This disaster affected the entire community because most of the victims were from the area. The patient vividly remembered the television coverage with the pictures of the crash scene, interviews with relatives and local personalities, etc. Furthermore, coverage every year on the anniversary of the crash reinforced all the visual images and intense feelings. It wasn't difficult for her to recall the TV images in her mind and to summon the confused feeling of a little girl who had seen something too horrific to comprehend. As the woman talked through all she saw and felt, I adjusted her atlas vertebra until the muscle tension finally released. She told me that the pictures faded out and the feelings receded until she was able to think about flying without any unreasonable fear.

Anniversary Neck and Shoulder Pain

I saw this next patient only in January, for a number of years. She always came to my office with complaints of neck and shoulder pain. She was never sure about the cause of the condition, just that it always occurred in January. As we talked about things that bothered her, she mentioned she was always upset at Christmas, as her mother had died on Christmas day when she was just a little girl. To honor her mother's memory, she spent every Dec. 25th at the cemetery, grieving and crying for that little girl who had lost her mother. While I adjusted the atlas vertebra, I asked her to focus on the picture of that poor little girl and her grief, to recall her feelings of abandonment and hopelessness, to talk through the experience at the cemetery. The muscle tension released, the picture faded, and the feelings subsided. She never returned to my office again in January with neck and shoulder pain, because she was no longer physically traumatized by the memory of her mother's death.

War Nightmare

A man came to my office with numerous complaints of headaches, neck, and back pain. As we talked, he related that he had trouble sleeping and later admitted that he had a recurring nightmare that dated back to his experience during the Korean War. This nightmare recreated a particularly painful scene from the war, one in which his buddy was killed in front of his eyes. After the nightmare, he would awaken in a terrible state. The muscles of his whole body would be tense. Despite the emotional pain of the nightmare, I asked him to bring to mind the violent images of his friend's death, and to dredge up the feelings that accompanied this gruesome memory while he talked about how he felt and what he saw. As the atlas adjustment released the muscle tension, the muscles of his body relaxed, the nightmare pictures went away, and his feelings calmed. He reported to me later that he had never had that nightmare again.

Mental Blocks in Athletics

A high-school student had been coming to me for a number of years for treatment of various conditions related to childhood bumps and bruises. In the course of our discussions, he said that he was on his school's basketball team. He could shoot certain shots very well, but he was having trouble with the three-point shot. He felt he had a mental block about that particular shot and when he tried to make a three-pointer, the mounting tension in his back made him feel like he was "throwing a brick." I asked him to see himself at the three-point line and visualize all that he did as he prepared to take the shot. I had him "feel" the tension in his muscles as he attempted the shot and tell me how he "looked" and felt as he tried the shot. I adjusted the atlas vertebrae as he did this until the muscle tension released. He told me that the picture and the feelings changed, and he could see himself making the shot every time. He was enthusiastic about trying three-pointers again instead of dreading it. He could shoot approximately 30 percent from the 3-point line before we started treatment. He reported to me later that he was then shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.

In the previous examples, it was relatively easy to connect the traumatic past event with the patient's condition and to adjust the atlas subluxation. Some traumatic past events must be activated or triggered in order to connect them to the dysfunctional condition and the atlas subluxation. The procedure for complex dysfunctional conditions has three steps:

  1. The patient is placed in a supine position and asked to think about the dysfunctional condition and experience the feelings or symptoms associated with that condition.


  2. If and when the atlas muscle tone tenses, a slight increase of the atlas rotation is utilized to hold - not correct - the atlas subluxation in an active state.

  3. The patient is asked to think about and react to trigger emotion words or phrases such as: being afraid; hurt; angry; insecure; guilty; out of control; anxiety; or depressed. For example, if I say to the patient, "Do you feel afraid?" and a slight tension occurs, this is the emotional trigger used for this patient's condition. The patient will now be directed to go back to his earliest memories to remember a time when he felt afraid. Specifically we will consider:
  1. before school, earliest memories;
  2. grade school;
  3. middle or junior high school;
  4. high school; or
  5. after high school or college, marriage, personal relationships, etc.

Any and all traumatic past events causing a tension of the atlas will be adjusted as described previously. Here are some examples:

Rape Trauma with Recurring Nightmare

A 51-year-old woman reported a recurring nightmare of being raped when she was 18 years old. Prior to this patient, I had always stopped others' recurring nightmares with one atlas adjustment. After two failures with her particular nightmare, I determined her condition was complex. The emotional trigger for her condition was being out of control, and there were three traumatic past experiences connected to the feeling of being out of control.

  1. Age 5 - While in an upstairs apartment with her grandmother two days before Christmas, the apartment caught on fire. It was a terrifying experience, with firemen bursting into the apartment and jerking her out of her grandmother's arms and taking her outside in freezing weather.


  2. Age 7 - Her father came home in a drunken rage. Her mother put her and her sister in a back bedroom and went to confront the father, who tried to kill her mother. The patient could hear a knife ripping through her mother's dress and the shouting and other noises associated with an attack of this nature.


  3. Age 18 - She was raped. After adjustment of the associated atlas subluxations with these three experiences, the patient stopped having the nightmare of being raped.

Heart Arrhythmia

A 62-year-old woman complained of irregular heartbeat, chest tightness, and shortness of breath when she went to bed. This had been in existence from her earliest memories as a child. She had undergone numerous testing procedures over the years, including cardiac catheterization, etc. and had been treated on many occasions unsuccessfully with medication. Her emotional trigger was that of being afraid. Her earliest memories were dominated by her parents' loud and angry arguing after she and her brothers and sisters had gone to bed. Often she would be so upset that she would have dry heaves after these arguments. After adjustment of the associated atlas subluxation, she stopped having the irregular heartbeat, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

Urinary Urgency

A 39-year-old woman reported being dominated by excessive frequent urination when she was away from home. She was always afraid that she would not be able to find a bathroom. Everything had to be planned around finding a bathroom. The emotional trigger was her out-of control feelings. One event happened in the second grade. During recess, she needed to go to the bathroom. Her teacher firmly told her she could wait. She waited for a while and then went back to the teacher and told her again that she needed to go to the bathroom. The teacher, more firmly, told her again to wait. Finally she could wait no longer and sat on the ground and urinated. She was wet and dirty, and was horribly embarrassed by this experience. The patient was adjusted using the atlas activate and adjust technique, and she was afterward free of her anxiety and urinary urgency.

The technique also has been successfully used in freeing people of symptoms of acid reflux, erectile dysfunction, noninfectious skin lesions, etc.

In summary, the technique is effective in advancing a basic principle of chiropractic care as stated by D.D. Palmer in 1910:

"The fundamental principles of chiropractic are physiological tone, normal tonicity: the state of healthy tension, or normal contraction of the nerve and muscle fibers while at rest; and pathological tension, too much or not enough nerve tension. The source or origin or chiropractic principles is tension."


Some conditions, such as fibromyalgia, are extremely complex, consisting of numerous emotional triggers and numerous traumatic past events. The procedure for this condition, using the atlas activate and adjust technique, is as follows:

  1. Activate the patient's painful muscle groups by squeezing the leg, arm and shoulder muscles to increase his or her pain and make it the focus of attention.


  2. The patient is directed to respond to each of the emotional triggers, for example, "Does the pain make you feel afraid?" If increased tension or tone of the atlas musculature develops, the patient is adjusted as previously described until normal tone returns.

This is done on each of the emotional triggers on the first visit. On the second office visit, the procedure is repeated. Usually, after three to seven visits, the patient will not subluxate in response to any of the emotional triggers, and experience only minimal to no soreness of the muscle groups when they are compressed.

The chart below demonstrates the emotional triggers and adjustments that are consistent with a fibromyalgia condition.

A frequent aggravating factor that slows or even stops a patient's recovery is a traumatic relationship with a parent, friend, etc. During the early years of my practice, I often advised a patient not to make a visit to a parent until he or she had fully recovered, because after each visit the condition was worse, and we often had to start all over again. The patients usually reported that their parents always criticized, "guilt-tripped" them, and were still trying to control their lives. My present procedure for patients who have had a traumatic relationship or experience with a relative; friend; employer; teacher; doctor; minister; etc., is to take patients through the list of emotional triggers with each person with whom they have or have had traumatic relationships. For example, I ask, "When you think about your mother, do you ever feel afraid?" or "When you think about your mother, do you ever feel hurt?" Again, this is done with all the emotional triggers on the first visit, and again, on following visits. until the patient no longer tenses or subluxates to any of the emotional triggers. Patients usually reports they no longer feel hurt, anger or guilt relevant to the involved people, and more importantly, they're no longer tense or subluxate because of reactions or interactions with these people.

(DATA) 1-3-01 1-5-01 1-7-01 1-10-01 1-12-01
Afraid x        
Hurt x x x x  
Angry x x x    
Guilty x        
Out-of-control x x x    
Depressed x x x    
Nauseated   x      
All Alone          
Frustrated x        
Weak x x      
Embarrassed x        
Inferior x        
Betrayed x        
Atlas Adjustments 11 6 4 1 0
This chart demonstrates the emotional triggers and adjustments consistent with a fibromyalgia condition.

I conclude that when enough traumatic past events become neurologically linked together, a pattern of physiological dysfunction will occur, and eventually pathology may occur.

Michael Via,DC
Huntington, West Virginia

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