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What are the Atlas and Axis?

woman pointing at a spine

You probably think you are back in Geography class! To you, an atlas is likely a book filled with colourful maps. And when you hear the word “axis” you picture the Earth rotating on its axis.

To a Chiropractor, however, the atlas and axis are the two uppermost bones of your cervical spine. They are also referred to as C1 and C2.

The atlas (C1) is the uppermost cervical vertebra on which the occipital bone of your skull rests. The occipital bone has a large oval opening through which the brain stem connects the brain to your spinal cord. Underneath the atlas is the axis (C2). There are special ligaments that link these two vertebrae, allowing up to 90-degree rotation. Working together, C1 and C2 keep you safe on the road – when doing that vital shoulder check before merging your vehicle into another lane, or when you are looking both ways before crossing the street!

Unfortunately, this flexibility of the upper cervical spine has a downside. When you suffer a forceful back-and-forth movement to the head, for example in a motor vehicle accident or a sporting mishap, nerve damage occurs. “Whiplash”, as this injury is commonly known, results in persistent upper back, shoulder, neck pain, and other complications.

Of even greater concern is the fact that, as mentioned above, nerve messages to every organ and tissue below your head pass through this vital area. If the atlas and the axis are injured, communication between the brain and the rest of the body can be impaired. This will negatively impact the body’s ability to function optimally.

If you have any questions about the health or alignment of your spine or that of your loved ones, Dr. Erin McLaughlin and Dr. Pierre Paradis are here to help. If you live or work in Kanata and the surrounding area, contact us today or give us a call at (613) 831-9665.


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