Why a Back Problem Becomes a Brain Problem

The brainstem plays a critical role as the control center our brain uses to reach the body
June 4, 2020 Updated: June 6, 2020

In the medical system today, there are specialists for every part of the human body. Cardiologists, pulmonologists, ophthalmologists, and the list goes on.

As a consequence, many people understand the body to be a group of separate mechanical parts, and with that mindset, the heart, lungs, and eyes are distinct and unrelated. This is akin to a car, as the odometer climbs, the brakes wear independent of the windscreen wiper blades, yet both components are critical to the safe operation of a vehicle on a rainy day.

While we can thank modern medicine for innumerable advancements, we must also acknowledge that it falls short in many regards, mostly because it doesn’t factor in the body’s innate healing abilities.

While medical science is exceptional for crisis and trauma, an outside-in approach to healing is perhaps most evident in the pharmacological treatment of illness. Designed in most cases to manage and suppress surface symptoms, chemical therapeutics often fail to address the underlying imbalance or cause of illness and result in side effects and possibly further complications.

Many healing arts, on the other hand, see the body as an integrated system. Some even acknowledge it as a living ecosystem given the presence of billions of microbes that live inside us and play essential roles in keeping us well. Most traditional medicine systems recognize that we are part of nature not separate from it. This can sound New-Agey to some, but consider this, our food grows from the soil and, in combination with the air we breathe, creates all of our living tissues. We are made from the world around us, literally.

Within all of us, there is an innate intelligence from birth, keeping us alive when we are both asleep and awake. “The power that made the body heals the body” as the developer of chiropractic, Dr. B.J. Palmer once said.

Ultimately, we are designed to heal, and healing is an inside job. Think of what would happen if you cut a steak and let it sit, compared to what happens when you get a papercut. The absence of life means the steak will not generate new cells or heal. On the other hand, our bodies immediately react to paper cuts where tiny blood cells called platelets gather to create blood clotting and a host of other chemical changes protect us from infection at the sight of the wound and accelerate healing. Eventually, a scab is formed and new cells are made to seal the wound.

If we are designed to heal, why does everyone not enjoy good health? There can be a variety of factors ranging from environmental to lifestyle. But one major overlooked factor in why people may experience poor health relates to our backs.

How could a back problem become a brain problem, you might ask. Surely that only applies to people who have had severe spinal injuries or who have undergone surgery and need rehabilitation? The truth however is that even minor misalignments of the spinal bones can compromise the functioning of the nerve system and the brain’s ability to communicate with the body. This can impair the function and healing work of the body.

When you think of any organ or tissue in your body, the lungs, or heart, for example, ask yourself what controls them. What instructs your lungs to take in a breath and your heart to carry out normal rhythmic pumping? Intuitively, we all know that our brain and the central nervous system controls these things. Our brain plays a central role in coordinating every cell, tissue, and organ in our body, by way of the nerve system.

The brain is floating in the skull in a nutrient-rich fluid called the cerebral spinal fluid. At the base of the skull, there is a large round opening called the foramen magnum (meaning big hole). From this opening, the brainstem emerges and continues on as a spinal cord within the spinal column.

The top two vertebrae of the spine, called atlas (think Greek God holding the earth) and axis, protect the brainstem. The brainstem is our master control center, like ground control in Houston when a space shuttle leaves the Earth. It keeps us alive. There are an estimated 450 million nerve fibers that crisscross at this area. It’s more specifically referred to as the “cranial cervical junction.” All life flows through this neurology from the brain to guide the rest of the body.

Consider that the brainstem is the main entry point of the brain into the spinal column. Nerves branch out from between the 24 moveable bones of the spine to innervate the various parts of our body. Nerves go to the thyroid gland, they go to the tonsils, they go to the postural muscles, the lungs, the heart, the digestive tract, the various glands, the pancreas, the appendix, the colon, the arms, the legs, and so on.

Signals from the brain travel down through the spinal cord in our back at a speed of 269 mph, back-and-forth constantly. So if the nerve system is the superhighway that the brain depends on to communicate with all the tissues of the body, could bones out of alignment in the spine (spinal misalignments) cause dysfunction and symptoms in the tissues connected to the end of those nerves?

The simple and obvious answer is: yes. It is analogous to poor phone reception. In fact, this is what traditional chiropractors have known for over 100 years—that these misalignments create spinal cord tension, irritate the nerves, and ultimately compromise a person’s health.

As an upper cervical chiropractor, my main focus is to locate and correct spinal misalignments with a gentle specific and scientific adjustment, especially in the upper neck.

I have seen first-hand how patients with kinks in their upper neck from the stress and traumas of life recover from symptoms and conditions that were related to their spine when a gentle adjustment is given.

Many of them have enjoyed renewed health and life from having their spine checked and corrected for nerve interference on a regular basis.

It all seems pretty straightforward when you consider the spine’s role, even if our acute care model of modern medicine rarely takes these matters into account.

It’s important to understand that chiropractic does not treat, cure, or manage any condition or disease. It merely serves to restore proper nerve supply from the brain to the body, and improve the biomechanics of the spine. Then the body can heal itself.

Dr. Joseph A. Gigliotti is an upper cervical chiropractor at Full Life Family Chiropractic in Hamilton Ontario, Canada. He specializes in the upper neck and its relationship with brain health and the overall functioning of the nerve system. Dr. Gigliotti and his team serve the community in their growing practice, oftentimes helping those who have failed to find answers in conventional health care. For more information visit www.FullLifeChiro.ca