What every chiropractic patient should know

Many different techniques are practised in chiropractic today, most designed to utilise the spine and nervous system to affect the health of the body.

The National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA) has developed a system of spinal restoration based on the body’s own engineering and design. Because each individual is different, the NUCCA system is designed to assess each person’s spine individually to determine if correction/restoration is necessary. Spinal injury at any age can result in a tearing or stretching of spinal muscles, ligaments and tendons. This damage allows for the misalignment and locking of individual bones in the spine, called vertebrae. As the top bone of the spine, the atlas – also known as C1 – is misaligned and distorted, signals from the brain through the nervous system, feeding all parts of the body, can be affected.   The goal of the NUCCA adjustment, or correction, is to balance the structures of the spine and pelvis to allow proper function throughout the nervous system.

The NUCCA system is an evolution of previously developed systems of upper cervical chiropractic. The primary focus is on a measurable, predictable and reproducible restoration of body balance using the relationship of the skull to the cervical spine and their effect on the brainstem. Research by the research arm of NUCCA (The Upper Cervical Research Foundation) is ongoing to consistently improve outcomes. The applications of the relevant principles of mathematics, physics and biomechanics are applied to the correction of the atlas subluxation to minimise guesswork and maximise predictable outcomes.


Why the Atlas?

Restoring the atlas and the spinal column to their normal position on the vertical axis reduces spastic contracture of the spinal extensor muscles, which in turn realigns the spine and pelvis. The joints of the spine and pelvis can then work normally because their centres of gravity rest on the body’s vertical axis.

The atlas is located at the base of the skull and, thus, makes the central nervous system (i.e., brain and spinal cord) vulnerable to interference when the atlas misaligns, or fixates. Accurately measuring each person’s misalignment assures the proper adjustment for the person and increases the probability of correction.  From this, one can easily understand why the NUCCA adjustment is a very difficult motor skill to master.

Chiropractors Don’t Heal

The adjustment does not heal the patient. Neither does it relieve symptoms. What the adjustment does do is remove interference to normal nerve function. Normal performance of the patient’s nervous system is vital to the body’s ability to self-heal. The adjustment restores the normal activity of the nervous system affected by the vertebral misalignment.

Medical research is being done today to better understand this self-healing process. The science of neuro-immunology explores the ability of the body to combat and to conquer disease. It is now recognised that, had self-healing not existed, mankind would not have survived through the centuries. A simple example of self-healing is the ability of the body to mend a broken bone after it has been set. Interference to the nervous system by an atlas misalignment affects the ability of the body to heal itself.

Do Symptoms Matter?

Yes and no. Symptoms are merely signals from the body that indicate change. Not the problem, the signal. However, what causes symptoms for one person will not cause symptoms for another. Unfortunately, vertebral misalignment will produce imbalance in the body structure long before symptoms occur in most cases. Relief of symptoms, therefore, is a secondary effect of the adjustment. First, there must be a re-setting of the misaligned vertebrae, and a period of time that the vertebrae hold their normal positions until the healing process is stable.

Moreover, symptoms are variables in that they are not really indicative of the patient’s true state of health. Many factors influence how a patient feels: stress, fatigue, weather conditions, state of mind, etc. Therefore, adjustments cannot be predicated on how the patient feels at any given time. “I feel bad” or “I feel good” is not a sufficient reason to adjust or not to adjust. The only safe and reliable method is to check the patient for the presence or absence of neurological interference and postural distortion. If no evidence of imbalance is detected, no adjustment is rendered.

Increased Body Awareness

Following the first adjustment, either immediately or within a few hours, the patient may experience a warming sensation or a tingling sensation in an arm, leg, lower back, or in the chest or abdomen. Reactions are attributed to an increase in the activity of the sensory or input nerves. Impressions to the brain are increased by the adjustment and the patient may be made more aware of his/her health problem. This phenomenon occurs only in cases where the misalignment is interfering with the sensory nerves by altering sensory information to the brain.


The doctor of chiropractic’s responsibility in upper cervical practice is to correctly analyse the atlas misalignment and to measure its distortion effects on the patient’s body. The analysis consists of measuring the degrees of the C1 vertebral displacement into the planes of motion, and establishing the procedure for the adjustment in each case. Treatment consists of maximally reducing the misalignments of the atlas, restoring the spinal and pelvic distortions to the vertical axis of the body, and monitoring the patient’s progress.

The patient should be monitored until the body is stable in a balanced position. Muscular and ligament damage create weakness that can take weeks or months to stabilise. The patient should be checked for neurological interference regardless how he or she feels. S/he should also realise that some misalignments are more difficult to handle than others, and some cases are pathological whereas others are functional. The latter respond more rapidly to NUCCA care.

Recovery Time

A rough assessment of a patient’s rate of recovery depends on:

  • His/her type of condition
  • The length of the time the patient has been misaligned
  • The time required for nerve and/or tissue repair
  • The protection the patient gives his/her adjustment
  • General state of the patient’s health and age
  • Patient’s exposure to stress and fatigue
  • Environmental factors affecting the patient
  • The injuries the patient may suffer during the treatment period
  • How long the adjustment holds its restored position
  • The difficulty of the adjustment

The presence of anomalies, malformations, and pathologies in the cervical spine also delay recovery.

Patients should report all injuries to the chiropractor, however slight, as they may produce a change in the misalignment pattern, requiring a change in the adjustment.

The patient who “holds” his/her adjustment (i.e., requires no adjustment) will obtain faster results. S/he may not immediately feel better because healing time is required, but response is more certain. There are, however, many reasons why fixation recurs. Injuries and patient care of the adjustment have been discussed. In some cases tendons become stretched in the original injury that produced the misalignment. Tendons, once stretched, do not regain their tonicity. The head rests on the atlas and weighs about 10 pounds, resting on a very small surface. This arrangement makes for instability. Additionally, no bony locks exist, as in other spinal vertebrae, to hold the atlas in place after it has been re-set.


Patients frequently engage in exercise programmes. These exercises, in some cases, can be harmful to patient progress. You should advise your chiropractor of the type of exercise they are currently engaged in and discuss their effects with them.

The NUCCA system of chiropractic practice is a natural health system that requires precise measurement of the displacements of the atlas vertebra. From these postural and x-ray measurements, an adjustment (correction) is structured for each patient that will maximally reduce all the vertebral displacements. The purpose of the adjustments is to restore the distortions of the spinal column to the body’s vertical axis and help the body towards a a better state of health.