Why is the Atlas so important?
The Atlas is the first bone in the spine, also known as “C1.” It is located right below the base of the skull. “Atlas” was a figure in Greek mythology who carried the world on his shoulders. Similarly the Atlas, weighing a mere 2 ounces, supports the head, which weighs 9-17 pounds! This bone protects the root of the spinal cord. Openings in the atlas vertebra also serve as the entry way for arteries supplying blood to the brain.
The Atlas supports the weight of the head most efficiently in an orthogonal position. In engineering, two lines are “orthogonal” if they are 90 degrees in relation to one another. Thus, the term Upper Cervical refers to the position of the Atlas being 90 degrees in relation to the head and neck.
The spine is like a chain. When the first link is twisted and turned, each link down to the last turns slightly, thereby disrupting the rest of the chain. In this way, even lower back and leg problems may be directly related to an atlas misalignment. The atlas is the first and most important link in that chain. It is by far the most mobile joint of the spine and is therefore the most vulnerable to subluxation.
Besides directly impacting the neck, we can see other effects such as decreased curves in the neck, scoliosis, and changes in the alignment in the shoulders and pelvis. These changes in the alignment affect the structural integrity of the skeletal system. This in turn can result in a host of other symptoms and problems, especially headaches, neck, and facial pain.