Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Did an Atlas Adjustment Cure My Back Pain?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

About years ago, I had lower back pain on the right side, possibly related to being thrown from horse rides, twice. Upon suggestion, I went to a chiropractor who was trained in "scientific chiropractic." After some study of "leg alignment" (my characterization), weight distribution per leg, and very particular x-ray studies of my neck, he did an adjustment of my atlas. He did this after careful positioning of my body (on support and with measurement) by using his index finger (after carefully positioning myself much like a golfer would prepare for a long putt) to apply some adjustment to the atlas. The pain was relieved but returned and was treated again. The time between treatments became longer and longer. It's now six years or more since I've had reason to see him for a treatment or re-evaluation. Several questions occur to me now:

Answer

The atlas is the highest spinal bone in the neck and has no connection to any structure that could cause back pain. Thus there is no reason to believe that an "atlas misalignment" could cause low-back pain. It seems likely that your recovery from back pain was a natural process that had nothing to do with the hocus-pocus of measuring and adjusting your atlas.

There are occasions when neck symptoms caused by locking or fixation of the atlas or some other joint in the neck can be relieved with manual manipulation or mobilization of the neck. But only a few treatments would be required.

Manipulation of the neck as a treatment for low-back pain—or when there are no neck-related symptoms—is a useless and unscientific procedure that poses unnecessary risk to sensitive joints and blood vessels in the neck.

Common sense, as exercised in this case, will often raise questions about treatment methods that are unnecessary or inappropriate

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient's Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic's history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This page was posted on June 5, 2002.