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For good overall health, Jack Stockwell believes everyone should get their head on straight.
The South Jordan chiropractor said people who have postural issues often find that the source of their pain is related to the atlas the first vertebrae of the spine. Unlike the other vertebrae, the atlas "floats" on top of the spine which allows the head greater range of motion to rotate and pivot. The atlas gives humans the ability to see in various directions without turning the rest of the body.
But the unanchored characteristics of the atlas mean it can also be easily moved out of alignment, according to Stockwell, one of the 22 chiropractors in the nation who specializes in altas correction and is certified by the National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association.
He said atlas misalignment, or subluxations, are often caused by hard hits to the head or jerking motions such as the ones caused by whiplash. While the patient may not feel a difference right away, the nerve compression can cause a variety of symptoms over time as the body tries to compensate for the misalignment. From headaches, low back pain, knee pain and scoliosis, to seemingly unrelated issues such as digestive disorders, TMJ and loss of sleep may all be caused by a misaligned atlas.
Stockwell said the problem can be fixed without intrusive techniques. A typical office visit entails X-rays of the head and measurements to see if there is a weight shift. If the atlas is misaligned, Stockwell adjusts it with a few light taps on the neck behind the ear. It isn't the kind of typical "cracking" adjustment many associate with chiropractors.
"We are adjusting the body by a millimeter to a half a millimeter," said Stockwell.
Lois Howard has seen the benefits. Her son, who stands 6-foot-4, hit his head on a low door frame in Uraguay and began showing signs of scoliosis. After a few visits to Stockwell claims her son's scoliosis was corrected.
"After seeing Dr. Stockwell, the pain went way in the neck and he is taller and he is straighter," she said.
After seeing the success of her son's treatment, Howard visits the chiropractor whenever she gets headaches or neck pains or feels herself walking "crooked." Her husband, who was hit by a car in his youth also goes. He walks into the office limping and leaves walking without a hitch to his step, she said.
While Howard is a happy customer, the practice of atlas subluxations and its possible health effects is criticized by some practitioners of Western medicine. Medical doctors claim that the practice is based on testimonials, and not an accurate body of scientific research. Which may explain why many insurance companies don't pay for the treatments, which can cost anywhere from $125 to $500 for one visit.
The number of doctor visits required vary. Some patients require only one or two visits while others require more, depending on the severity of their subluxation.
Rachel Clark, a 26-year-old from Provo, suffered severe headaches and TMJ for six years following a car crash that caused whiplash. Desperate for a solution and tired of taking medications for headaches and severe allergies, Clark followed the advice of a friend and went to Stockwell.
"I was a little skeptical at first, but nothing is weird to me because I've tried so many things," she said. "After three adjustments my headaches are gone and the crazy thing is I can eat everything I was allergic too like gluten, corn and dairy without any problems."
Jim Van Slooten, who treats people out of Holladay Chiropractic, also is certified in atlas correction through the Palmer College of Chiropractic. "If everyone understood how critical it is for the neurological function of the body," he said. "It would be viewed as important as getting your teeth routinely checked."
Chiropractic work often has a bad reputation, but if you have chronic pain and have suffered a traumatic hit to the head it may be a good idea to have your atlas checked.
Lya Wodraska is a certified CHEK Practitioner and holistic lifestyle coach. E-mail her at Lwodraska@sltrib.com.Facebook.com/lyatribune. Twitter: @LyaWodraska