The Atlas vertebra is named for the mythological figure who held the world on their back/neck. The vertebrae are located at the top of the spine, where the cranium and spine connect. More than just a foundation for support, the vertebrae could be the most important vertebrae of the body. It consists of a complex bundle of nerves, vertebral arteries, and is the point where the entire weight of the cranium makes contact.
The myth requires Atlas to be careful while holding the world carefully and confidently at all times, otherwise it will come crashing down. The key is being able to balance it perfectly. The vertebra has the same job to hold the head up properly and maintain posture. If not problems with balance and alignment will begin to develop, and affect the entire spine.
The Atlas Vertebra
The Atlas vertebrae’s role in maintaining balance is based on its ability to adjust to the weight of the head. The actual vertebra is wider than the other cervical vertebrae. This creates a center of gravity that is reinforced through proper posture. It distributes the weight of the head (10-12lb) evenly to centralize the weight and is supported by the natural curvature of the spine. If the center of gravity shifts, the Atlas vertebra will tilt in that direction as well. This creates instability in the cervical spine and can increase the amount of weight the spine is taking and trying to redistribute. This creates spinal issues and leads to everything from poor posture, overcompensation that leads to injury.
Disruption to the vertebra and its ability to balance can come from a variety of causes and can occur as a result of chronic and acute conditions. Some include:
Auto accidents, sports, work injuries can cause cervical soft tissue damage
Dislocation of cervical vertebrae below the Atlas results in instability
Poor posture/s make individuals overcompensate to one side of the body straining muscles, ligaments, tendons causing pain and other issues
Herniated, bulging, and slipped discs
Spinal issues range from simple neck pain and soreness to full-on chronic pain. Because the Atlas can alter the balance of the entire spine, combined with cranium support, issues can be localized and referred creating further complications. Addressing the root problems requires a comprehensive chiropractic approach. Chiropractic will assess the position of the spine and determine the degree to which Atlas has shifted out of place. An adjustment treatment plan makes it possible to undo the widespread damage.
Individuals do not realize that muscle loss occurs throughout their lifetime. This is because muscles, like other tissues in the body, must go through cell turnover and protein synthesis. This means that the body is constantly breaking down protein in the muscles and rebuilding them. Skeletal muscle can be developed with proper nutrition and includes consuming a proper amount of protein to provide the necessary amino acids and from physical activity. The reverse is also true, if an individual becomes less physically active and/or their diet no longer supports the development of increased muscle tissue, the body enters a catabolic/tissue-reducing state known as muscle atrophy.
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Woodfield, H Charles 3rd et al. “Craniocervical chiropractic procedures – a précis of upper cervical chiropractic.” The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association vol. 59,2 (2015): 173-92.
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