Atlanto Axial joint anatomy

Keywords; atlanto axial joint anatomy, chiropractic help, whiplash research, cervical facet syndrome.

This page provides information on an area that is hugely important in the treatment of headaches, dizziness and severe neck pain.

Firstly, I'm going to start with an anecdote; they have no scientific value whatsoever, but do sometimes serve to illustrate a point. They can also be very misleading; treat them with a pinch of salt.

I have just finished doing a locum in Europe; the return journey was torrid, beginning in Birmingham, United Kingdom, on Saturday morning. Three flights later I reached home on Sunday evening. Sleeping on an modern day jet is just about the worst thing you can do for your neck.

There was nothing to report for a few days, but I then began to get vague discomfort in the upper neck; by nine o'clock this morning I had a blinding headache. I even felt slightly nauseous. Even chiropractors need a DC; on motion palpation she found a suboccipital fixation.

The adjustment of C1 was simple yet profound; within thirty minutes the headache started to lift. That was three hours ago; as I write I have virutually no pain. Just a washed out feeling persists; what I need is an early night.

The atlas is the first bone in the neck. It is quite unlike any othe in the body; it's simply a ring, with facets above and below which articulate with its nearest neighbours, namely the occiput of the skull and the axis.

The axis, too, is quite unique. It is not unlike the other neck vertebrae, except that it has a peg called the dens jutting straight upwards.

The atlas rotates on this dens, giving the neck about 50 percent of its rotation.

The Japanese call the axis the Little Buddha. Without too much imagination, you can see why.

The Spinal Cord @ Atlanto Axial joint anatomy

"Greetings from Winnipeg, Canada. Whilst surfing the web I found your website; it's very informative. Congratulations."


The spinal cord, perhaps the most sensitive tissue in the body, passes down through the atlas and axis, carrying vital information to and from the body. Because of this intimate relationship, subluxations have a profoundly negative effect on the body. Whiplash almost invariably leaves its mark on the cervical spine anatomy; hence today there is much whiplash research being done.

The rules are simple; belt up, don't drink and drive, travel more slowly, obey the laws of the road and take a break every couple hours. The consequences of doing your own thing when behind the wheel are too ghastly to contemplate. Death, life long pain and disability are not uncommon.

Don't you too have family and friends who have been thus affected?

There is no disc between the atlas and the axis. Thus the facet joints and numerous ligaments, of course, provide the only stability between the two bones; fixation and subluxation occurs readily.

Early chiropractors, known for a reason that escapes me, as hole in one practitioners adjusted only the atlas. If you consulted him or her with low back pain, only C1 would be adjusted.

Newer findings confirm that there is an intimate relationship between the atlas and L5, the vertebra that is the most common cause of low back pain.

Read more about the effect whiplash research may have on your choice of treatment for your neck pain. WHIPLASH RESEARCH ... the statistics are frightening.


The Greater Occipital nerve

This nerve emerges between the atlas and the axis, and supplies the base of the skull, the so called occipital region. Irritation of the greater occipital nerve is probably the most frequent cause of headaches located at the top of the neck, especially the atlanto axial joint anatomy. It's an area that chiropractors specialise in.

Just how safe is manipulation of the upper neck; are there dangers? Could you have a stroke?

There simple answer is yes, there are dangers. Having said that, the chances of you having a stroke chiropractic episode are so slight that you can to all intents ignore it. Depending on which research you read, about 1 per 6 million manipulations will cause a serious injury.

I have given probably two hundred thousand cervical manipulations in my career without a serious mishap. Yet they do happen, and the wise chiropractor adjusts the upper neck warily knowing well that's where angels fear to tread.

Part of the solution is to be particularly wary with the patient suffering from dizziness or vertigo; yet the irony is that some of these folk only get relief from an adjustment of the neck. The vertebral artery passes up through the atlanto axial joint anatomy to the balance area of the brain. It too can be affected by upper cervical subluxations.

Nevertheless, research shows that seventy percent of vertigo is caused by loose crystals in the inner ear; neither drugs nor the chiropractic adjustment should be used in the first instance.

The warning sign is a positive hallpark dix test; avoid adjusting that patient and the chances of stroke are even more remote.

Have you ever seen the kidney Olympics on television? You'll quickly realise the dangers of swallowing bucket loads of pills for your headaches is far more dangerous. Most of those young people lost their kidneys and are on dialysis through taking analgesic medication.

In thirty four years of chiropractic, not one of my patients has, touch wood, had a stroke. One elderly lady had a temporary ischemic attack a week after treatment; it was almost certainly unrelated, and in any event recovered completely, and still consults me once a month. I do tread warily when approaching her neck, naturally.

See lower down more about the potential dangers of stroke chiropractic and particularly dual antiinflammatory drugs. An occasional, regular cervical massage has much merit for the dizzy patient suffering from  chronic upper cervical pain and headache.

The atlanto axial joint anatomy, the jaw joint and the sinuses are intimately interconnected.

The sensory nucleus of the nerve that supplies the jaw joint and sinuses,  the largest of the cranial nerves is located in the upper neck. Very frequently folk with popping, grating, painful jaw joints, also suffer from upper cervical pain, migraine and severe facial pain.

Many sufferers from chronic sinusitis also will tell you that they have upper cervical neck pain. There is anecdotal evidence incidentally that chewing the wax cappings from a local beekeeper may help sinusitis. Studies show bees don’t just bring flower pollen back to the hive but also tree and grass pollens thought to be the main cause of chronic sinusitis. A regular inoculation of these pollens may help your sinusitis. 

It's for this reason that some beekeepers are now specialising in raw honey that is unheated, and only lightly filtered so that it also contains pollen granules and small wax particles.

Notice how the spinal trigeminal tract marked in italics below caries information from the jaw joint to the sensory nucleus of the trigeminal nerve which is actually located in the neck and not in the brain. You feel jaw pain in the neck, odd as that may seem.

Searching for something specific? Just type it in here: 

Good nutrition @ Atlanto axial joint anatomy

Don't underestimate the influence of diet on your neck pain. Firstly, 60% of the brain itself is made of fat, half of which is based on the omega-3 fatty acids. The fats found abundantly in fish, flaxseed and walnuts, and to a lesser extent pecan nuts.

Secondly  there is heaps of research showing that the omega-3 fats have a vital role to play in the management of arthritis in general, and in this instance, arthritis in the neck.

Even more important is the omega-6/ omega-3 ratio in your diet. If you're into seed oils like corn and sunflower oil, soybean oil, and have no knowledge of fish oil and olive oil benefits then there's a good chance you would benefit from the thoughts of this heart surgeon on foods to reduce inflammation ...

Thirdly, all nerves are coated in a fatty myelin sheath that is predominantly oleic acid, the fat found abundantly in olives and avocados.

Neck pain? When last did you eat

A long, long time? That could well be part of the cause of your neck pain, even a large part, and it would be generally beneficial to your overall to include more omega 3 foods that have an overall anti inflammatory effect on the whole body, and not just your joints.

The benefits of massage therapy

One of the rules in my health philosophy is to first try the simple thing, before treatment that has potential dangers as well as benefits.  The benefits of massage therapy include very few if any misadventures if sensibly applied. An occasional, but regular massage will do wonders for your neck pain.

If you have cervical pain, and massage doesn't help, then consult a chiropractor for an examination to see if your pain is being caused by a subluxation in your neck.

If that doesn't help, only then consider taking drugs.

Important considerations @ Chiropractic Help

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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I've left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he's happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He's doing well.

3. Mrs T looked like the leaning tower of Pisa; she had a slipped disc at L5 making her lean towards the opposite side. It's called the postero lateral disc hernia; she's much better after two weeks of treatment and will go back to work next week, part time. Lateral discs are more difficult; both take a minimum of six weeks to heal. In my opinion, antalgic patients need what I call exercising bed rest. Sit and it won't get better.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months. He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the groin pain, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he's well pleased; sixty five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he's taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily walk has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your lower back is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her hip, knee and ankle issues. Xrays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Hypermobility is more difficult that too stiff in my opinion. Chiropractic is for kids too.

8. This 65 year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88 year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done.  

10. Mr X is a 71 year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a year ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38 old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he couldn't sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71 year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.

Have a problem that's not getting better? Looking for a different slant on your pain? Want to pose a question?

Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.
You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70% of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there's a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong! Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what chiropractors do.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my ebooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful, from the life and work of a chiropractor, you'll love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the price without telling me.