The cervical spine starts at the base of the skull, consists of seven vertebrae, and ends at the top of the shoulders, known as the thoracic spine (the upper back). From the base of the skull to the thoracic spine, these seven vertebrae are usually referred to as C1-C7. The cervical spine houses the top of the spinal cord and helps supply oxygen to the brain. It also supports the neck and head, allowing rotation, flexion, and extension of the neck muscles.
Rotation of the cervical spine is when the head moves from side to side, like when shaking “no”. Rotation of the head occurs in the first two vertebrae of the cervical spine, C1 and C2. Flexion occurs when the head is moved forward, for instance looking down at one’s toes. Extension happens when the head is moved backward, like when looking up at the sky. Flexion and extension, or nodding “yes”, happen in vertebrae C5-C7.
Trauma caused by injury, like an auto accident, whiplash, a concussion, or any injury to the neck may lead to impaired function of the cervical spine. Injuries can be as mild as neck pain, or as severe as loss of control of the arms, shoulders and biceps, functional loss of the diaphragm which could facilitate the need for a ventilator, and fine motor control loss. Each of these examples depends on where the injury is in the cervical spine. The spinal cord contains a lot of nerves, and damage to the cervical spine can pinch, limit function of, or damage the nerves that are responsible for motor control.
A chiropractor can look at the cause of injury and help improve motor function of the cervical spine, and thus motor function in the body. A chiropractor is a licensed physician, trained specially in joint mobility and function. After diagnosis and evaluation, a chiropractor can establish a personalized treatment plan for a patient. Chiropractors also employ several different therapy techniques to assist in the healing process, reduce swelling, alleviate pain, and improve mobilization. By manually manipulating the vertebrae in the cervical spine, a chiropractor can gently re-align vertebrae that have slipped out of place and release nerves that are pinched.
In some cases, multiple visits are required as the joints will often slip back into place, even if they move back into the wrong position. Continued care with a chiropractor will help with pain management, drug free therapies, and long term health.