Ask the Doc: How does upper cervical chiropractic work?

Editor’s note: Dr. Philip Schalow’s featured article, “Ask the Doc,” appears monthly. This is the ninth column in the series. Send questions for Dr. Schalow to and he will answer each one individually and choose a sampling for this article.

By Dr. Philip Schalow

Question: “I’m skeptical about upper cervical chiropractic. How does it work?”

Another of my most common questions is one I stopped asking myself after seeing three years of repeated positive results, so you’re in good company!

A thorough answer would be fun if you want to get into brain physiology and neurology, but it would also be appropriate to keep it simpler (e-mail me if you want more technical stuff!).

The architecture of the first bone in the neck (the atlas) makes it easy to slide in different directions, usually sideways, although because of variation in designs, it can also slide out of position and get stuck in a sideways/twisted manner. Its normal sliding movements can be seen in videoradiography as the head is tipped.

But when the atlas gets stuck, like in a sports injury, or even if a ligament is torn (usually the alar ligament in whiplash injury), it fails to move normally. You can tell this is happening because the brainstem (which is what the atlas is encircling) fails to do its job of controlling your postural muscles and your blood vessels. This looks like you’re not able to sit up straight, or a crooked spine, or lots of swelling where there isn’t a good reason for swelling.

The brainstem, and ultimately the entire brain, cannot get the right signals through that regulate body cells, muscles and entire systems such as the immune system, the digestive system, the endocrine system. When we restore normal movement relationship between the head, the atlas and the neck below with an exquisitely precise upper cervical correction, the brain can get the messages through. It’s simple high school biology.

Once in alignment, all body functions begin to operate on a higher level; people look younger, the skin looks healthier, the immune system is stronger, and many types of pain syndromes can be helped.

Skepticism is good if you seek the answers to the questions, but don’t let skepticism hold you back from experiencing the benefits, many of which sneak up on you after maintaining your correction for several months.

Let me know if you’d like to hear patients telling of actual events in my office that show the power of the body to fix things when that brain communication is restored. I will personally reply to your e-mail!

Dr. Philip Schalow is a NUCCA practitioner in Rockford. He owns 1st Step Chiropractic, S.C., 4519 Highcrest Road, Rockford. Call (815) 398-4500 for details or visit

From the Sept. 4-10, 2013, issue

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