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What is Upper Cervical Chiropractic?

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Upper Cervical is a specialty within the Chiropractic profession. Just as in Medicine, where there are several different specialized areas such as Cardiology, Neurology, Pediatrics etc. there are similarly specialized areas within the field of Chiropractic.

Upper Cervical Vertebrae

Upper Cervical Chiropractors focus on correcting the top two vertebrae in the spine, the Atlas (C1) and the Axis (C2). This is the most complex area of the spine both anatomically and functionally. Due to the complexities and delicate nature of this region of the spine, it takes additional training and advanced diagnostic equipment to perform corrections to these vertebrae.

The history of Upper Cervical Chiropractic dates back to the 1920’s when it was becoming apparent to some practitioners that a misalignment in the upper neck could cause a “trickle down effect” and cause problems throughout the entire body. Therefore, when they would correct the misalignment in this area it would often result in a “global correction” throughout the body. Since the initial discoveries and studies, Upper Cervical Chiropractic has come a long way. The Upper Cervical segment of Chiropractic has evolved more than any other area within the profession, with the ICA on Upper Cervical Care leading the way on research and continuous development.

The Upper Cervical Spine

The Cervical spine, or neck, is made up of seven movable bones called vertebrae. The top two bones in the spine, C1 the Atlas and C2 the Axis, as well as the Atlas’ joint articulation with the skull, make up what is called the “Upper Cervical Spine”. The Upper Cervical spine is unique because, unlike the rest of the spine, there are no intervertebral discs in between these vertebrae. For this reason, as well as other anatomical differences, the Upper Cervical region of the spine is much more mobile then the rest of the spine, providing over 50% of neck movement.

Due to the increased mobility in this area, as well as the delicate balance of the 12-20 lb skull sitting on top, it is the most commonly misaligned area in the spine. And due to its proximity to the head and brain stem, an Upper Cervical misalignment can have detrimental effects to an individuals’ health.

The Effects of an Upper Cervical Misalignment

Upper Cervical and Nerves

The Upper Cervical spine is located just beneath the skull and acts as a conduit between the head and the rest of the body. Several vital structures pass through this area including the vertebral artery (blood flow) and the upper spinal cord/brainstem (nerve flow).

Therefore, a shift in the spine from its properly aligned position, can have several effects aside from just musculoskeletal pain.

Common Indicators of An Upper Cervical Misalignment

  • Trouble turning your head from side to side

  • A feeling of pressure or pain at the base of the skull

  • Neck pain (usually one sided)

  • Headache or Migraine

  • Dizziness

  • Inability to hold up the head for an extended period of time.

  • Facial or Jaw pain

  • Pain radiating to the shoulders/arms

The Upper Cervical Adjustment

Prior to any adjustment, the doctor MUST take specialized imaging (x-ray or CT scan) in order to determine and verify the extent and direction of the individual’s misalignment.

Adjustment of the Upper Cervical Spine
Upper Cervical Chiropractic Adjustment

Once the imaging is carefully reviewed and confirmation of an Upper Cervical misalignment

has been made, the precise adjustment/correction can be delivered. The Upper Cervical adjustment differs greatly from a traditional chiropractic adjustment. Due to the difference in the anatomy in this area, less force and greater precision are required for a successful correction. Another major difference is that you will never hear a crack or pop with this adjustment, because the upper cervical joints connect differently than those down below.

How do I find an Upper Cervical Chiropractic Doctor Near Me?

Upper cervical Chiropractors make up less than 5 percent of all Chiropractors that are currently in practice. The major reason for this is due to the increased training required to practice Upper Cervical Chiropractic. Therefore, finding an Upper Cervical Chiropractor near you may be somewhat of a challenge.

However, there is a silver lining because even if you have to travel a moderate distance most Upper Cervical chiropractors will not need to see near as many visits as a traditional chiropractor. This is because a lot of the treatment is done at the front end when the analysis and examination are done. With this increased information, the treatment should be more effective and get you well quicker.

When using search terms to find an Upper Cervical chiropractor near you, you want to look for techniques such as; NUCCA, Orthospinology, Atlas Orthogonal, Grostic or Blair Upper Cervical. All of these vary slightly from one another, but all are very specific and use lighter-forced corrections.

If all else fails, feel free to email our clinic at and we would be happy to point you to the closest, trusted Upper Cervical doctor.


About the Author

Dr. Randy Culig

Dr. Culig became interested in Upper Cervical Care because his younger sister suffered from migraines since she was 13 years old. Since then, he has sought out natural ways to treat migraines without the use of drugs or surgery. As a Doctor of Chiropractic, he has spent over 100 hours in post-graduate courses regarding the Upper Cervical spine. He is currently enrolled in a 3-year diplomate program focused on upper cervical spine and related neurovascular conditions such as Migraine, Vertigo and Facial Pain. Once completed he will be the only doctor in Atlanta metro with his DCCJP.

For more information on Migraines and Upper Cervical click here for FAQ: More Information

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