Since the focus in our Colorado Springs chiropractic office is on the nerve system and the brain-body connection, let us take a moment to share some interesting clinical thoughts on such a complex disease.
MS is a debiliating disease of the central nervous system that disrupts communication between the brain and body and is often accompanied by secondary conditions like chronic pain, muscle weakness, vertigo, headache, and visual disturbances. It is considered a demyelinating disease which means it destroys part of your nerve cells callen myelin - the protective coating that allows electrical impulses to travel quickly and effectively through the spinal cord and nerves. MS is unique in that it is chronic and relapsing in nature. It is believed to result from an autoimmune response where the body’s own immune system attacks its own nerve tissue. This demyelination forms plaques that can be seen on advanced imaging in the brain as well as the spinal cord, primarily in the neck region of the spine. Other diagnostic hallmarks of this condition include biomarkers called oligoclonal bands found in the cerebro-spinal fluid, which leads us into some interesting theories when talking about the upper neck.
While the cause and the cure are yet unknown, there are some interesting aspects of multiple sclerosis to consider. For decades, cases have been written discussing the correlation of head and neck injuries like whiplash and the onset of MS. Some of these cases have even ended with large settlements in court. While there is still no causal link between these injuries and MS, scientist like Dr. Charles Poser of Harvard states that these injuries may act as a trigger in already susceptible individuals. By understanding the mechanisms of whiplash, we can begin to build a theoretical framework around how these injuries may contribute to the onset or exacerbation of multiple sclerosis.
As a Chiropractor in Colorado Springs, whiplash is extremely common due to the nature of the environment. We have sports like skiing, mountain biking, and rugby. We have snow and icy conditions on the roads frequently leading to motor vehicle accidents. In a whiplash trauma the head and neck is forced forward and backwards. Even at speeds as slow as 8mph, this acceleration-deceleration force can cause the head to move 18 inches, at a force as great as 7 G’s. The damage occurs due to the transfer of energy through the spinal column and not simply the impact itself. This rapid change in the cervical spine causes over stretching of the spinal cord and shearing of the nerve fibers. In research this is known as a traumatic axonal injury. This mechanical injury causes a chemical and inflammatory reaction in the spinal cord that may be the tip of the iceberg for those already susceptible to multiple sclerosis. Besides the spinal cord injury itself — muscle strains, ligament damage, and atlas misalignment (foundational shift) also occur during a whiplash that contribute to long term damage on the nervous system and how it will recover.
Another interesting connection between whiplash and multiple sclerosis involves something called cerebro-spinal fluid. This fluid acts like a cushion to the brain and spinal cord during movement. It has also fairly recently been discovered as the Glymphatic System. Much like the lymphatic system we all know - it works as a waste clearance system for the brain and spinal cord. It works hand in hand with the the immune system in the brain. This system functions mainly during sleep, and works by eliminating cellular debris, metabolic waste, and distributing a variety of biochemical compounds throughout the nervous system. Studies show changes in biological markers in CSF following trauma to the cervical spine. Rapid changes in pressure in CSF during whiplash injuries can also cause physical damage to the nerve fibers of the spinal cord and brain.
One of the most interesting mechanisms being studied is obstruction of cerebro-spinal fluid flow. Using advancements in imaging, companies like FONAR have made amazing discoveries in CSF dynamics and diseases by looking at the spine with upright functional MRI. Researcher Raymond V. Damadian and David Chu discovered that when scanning a patient with MS, there was a build-up of CSF in the ventricles of the brain. Coincidentally for MS, the plaque like lesions are usually concentrated adjacent to the ventricles in the brain. Upon investigating the history of several patients with the same image findings, almost all of them had suffered some form of traumatic injury to the neck in their past. Since then, many researchers like Dr. Michael Flanagan and Dr. Scott Rosa have conducted studies on the compelling hypothesis that obstructions to cerebro-spinal fluid can cause a build-up of pressure in the ventricles of the brain and caused a leak of fluid into the brain tissue. This fluid also contains proteins, some of which are known to be antigens that can stimulate antibody production.
Could this leakage or blockage of fluid stimulate an immune reaction in the brain and nerve tissue to attack itself like what is seen in autoimmune conditions — triggering the symptoms of multiple sclerosis? Could past trauma like a whiplash affect the structural alignment and integrity of the upper cervical spine (upper neck) and contribute to the blockage of CSF flow? If this atlas misalignment is not corrected, is it plausible that the inflammatory cascade from the mechanical injury to the spine and brain during the whiplash will continue and progress into a chronic condition? Advanced imaging has demonstrated that this is in fact entirely the case! Imaging studies have shown that when the atlas vertebra shifts in a rotational direction, the transverse process may compress a major venous pathway from the brain. By putting all of this together we can reach a very fascinating discovery for the 400,000 people affected by multiple sclerosis in the United States and nearly 1000 seeking multiple sclerosis treatment in Colorado Springs.
A past head or neck injury like whiplash often leaves behind a foundational shift in the alignment of the upper most bone in the spine (atlas) relative to the hole in the bottom of the skull. This has been researched and shown to contribute to the chronic obstruction of blood and spinal fluid in and out of the brain. The system that is now known as the immune clearance pathway for the brain. These changes over time may very well be what triggers the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis as well as the physical and neurological symptoms that comes along with the disease. Further scientific studies are needed investigating this mechanism and the implications of cerebro-spinal fluid flow and brain related illness. At Balance Chiropractic in Colorado Springs, we have seen many patients with multiple sclerosis respond positively through our gentle, specialized approach to chiropractic known as NUCCA foundational correction. By using a series of objective testing and digital imaging, we can pinpoint exactly how the upper neck has misaligned due to trauma — measured down to the fraction of a degree. The accuracy of the testing enables our doctors to correct this shift in the spine over time without ever twisting or cracking the neck.
For those suffering from multiple sclerosis in Colorado Springs or surrounding areas, the results in our office are aimed towards removing the pressure on the brain stem and restoring optimal blood and spinal fluid circulation in and out of the brain. Does this mean we are curing diseases like multiple sclerosis? ABSOLUTELY NOT. However, through a lasting spinal correction we have helped patients with multiple sclerosis finally find relief from chronic pain, migraines, dizziness, brain fog, muscle weakness and other secondary conditions associated with the disease.