Diagram representing the upper cervical misalignment and its association with heart health.
If you follow college football I'm sure you were shocked to learn of the recent death of a Division I college football player. The 19 year old football player was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy - a disease of the heart that causes abnormal enlargement of the walls of the heart.
While in chiropractic school, I did some in-depth study of the upper cervical region, specifically the nerves of the region and how they affect different tissues. One organ that I gave particular attention to was the heart. Two of the most important nerves that control your heart are the vagus nerve and the sympathetic chain. Both of these nerves are in very close proximity to the upper cervical spine (top two bones in the neck). The vagus nerve controls the "rest and digest" (parasympathetic activity), whereas the sympathetic chain provides the "fight or flight" (sympathetic activity) regulation of the heart.
In light of recent news stated above and my passion to help people in their journey to optimal health, I have revisited the nerves in the upper cervical region and how they may affect the function of the heart and other vital organs.
Two of the studies that I came across discussed the possible role of abnormal posture, especially a forwardly positioned head, on the body's vital functions. Abnormal posture can create an increase in heart rate, muscle sympathetic nerve activity, and blood pressure. All three of these effects cause extra stress on the heart. This extra stress forces the heart to work harder, and just like any other muscle, the heart will get larger as it tries to keep up with the demand.
It is very likely that muscles of the upper cervical region (suboccipital muscles) have a prominent role in making the heart work harder. This is due to the extremely high concentration of nerves (muscle spindles) within the muscles of the upper cervical region.
Several chiropractic studies have been completed that show changes in blood pressure and their association with chiropractic adjustments of C1 (top bone of spine). Perhaps the most popular one was published in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension
. The chiropractor in this study was a NUCCA (upper cervical chiropractic) doctor. It was concluded that restoration of C1 alignment was associated with marked reductions in blood pressure, so much so that the restored spinal alignment had the same effects on blood pressure as two-drug combination therapy.