Can a Chiropractor Help with Post Concussion Syndrome?

Posted in Head Pain Disorders on Dec 7, 2021

The short answer is yes, a chiropractor - specifically what is known as an upper cervical chiropractor - may be able to help with post concussion syndrome. Unfortunately for people looking for help with post concussion syndrome, a chiropractor is frequently one of the LAST healthcare professionals that they think of seeing.

Why is that?

Well, lots of reasons really. The first is the hope that the post concussion syndrome symptoms will just go away on their own.

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  • The headaches
  • The migraines
  • The blurred vision
  • The brain fog
  • The vertigo
  • The fatigue 
  • The full body pain
  • The inability to concentrate

Here’s the caveat that your concussion syndrome specialists may not have told you though: if you’ve been putting up with these symptoms for 6-12 weeks or longer, IF they were going to go away on their own, they would have done so by now! So if you’ve been working with a post concussion syndrome specialist, you’ve probably been doing a lot of the right things already:

  • You’ve had a brain MRI to rule out bleeding or pathology
  • You’ve been working with a physiotherapist to retrain your brain
  • You’ve been working with an eye therapist also to retrain your brain
  • You’ve been working with a post concussion syndrome specialist to help manage your symptoms

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And yet if your symptoms still persist, it is likely because there is another missing piece to the puzzle. And it is usually at this point where people looking for help with post concussion syndrome turn to the internet to find out what other options there may be to help them … and lo and behold, they found out about something called an “upper cervical chiropractor.”

How Can a Chiropractor Help with Post Concussion Syndrome?

It’s actually a remarkably simple answer, and you may be astonished if no one has told you before. It is because the symptoms of post concussion syndrome and a whiplash injury to your neck are completely indistinguishable. What this means is that you can have an injury to your neck - not your brain - and that is what is actually causing the problem.

From a functional perspective, there is no difference between your brainstem and your upper spinal cord. The top vertebrae in your neck, which are known as the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) have an intimate relationship with your brainstem, which is the master control centre of your body. First, the atlas and axis physically tether onto your spinal cord as a protective mechanism. There is no other area in the spine (perhaps with the exception of the sacrum) that does so. However, if you’ve suffered an injury that has caused these vertebrae to misalign, even by a few millimetres, instead of protecting your brainstem, they can actually exert physical tension that pulls and irritates the cord. It is a process known as mechanical neurosensitivity.

And because the the centres of the brainstem are responsible for pain modulation (especially of the head neck and shoulders), clarity of thought, vision and balance amongst numerous other vital functions, it is how your neck can actually produce the symptoms associated with post concussion syndrome, but then also how an upper cervical chiropractor may be able to help. But that’s only the first part of the story.

The atlas and axis also have a profound impact on fluid flow to, from and within your brain. Misalignments in the upper neck have been found to affect the circulation of cerebral spinal fluid, which in turn has been found to be directly linked with the symptoms of post concussion syndrome. So do you see what the problem may be if you’ve been seeing all the post concussion specialists but haven’t been getting the breakthrough you’ve been looking for: it is that maybe, just maybe, everyone has been looking in the wrong area.

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Everyone has been focusing on the brain when the actual problem could be coming from your upper neck … if so, and this is where an upper cervical chiropractor may be the very person you need to help you with your recovery from post concussion syndrome.

What does an Upper Cervical Chiropractor do Differently to Help with Post Concussion Syndrome?

An upper cervical chiropractor is a chiropractor who has completed additional advanced training beyond a standard chiropractic doctorate degree in the relationship between the upper part of the neck - the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) - and the nerve system. Upper cervical is a special division of chiropractic, developed and researched in the USA, which is why it is still (unfortunately) very rare in Australia. In Australia, there are only approximately 12-20 chiropractic doctor actively employing an upper cervical technique.

The principle difference is the degree of precision that we take in getting to the root of the problem in the upper neck and how this may be able to help with conditions such as post concussion syndrome. The process begins with a physical and neurological assessment in order to determine if your body is functioning properly, where and how your body has attempted to compensate for stress. If we find evidence that there is a problem with the alignment of your neck, what we do then are a series of customised diagnostic images that help show the exact location, direction and degree of any misalignment in your neck that could be responsible for your condition. Then, with this information, we are able to provide a personalised care recommendation to give you the best possible chance of improvement from post concussion syndrome.

For people with post concussion syndrome, what we frequently find is that they have more than one layer of physical injury that is contributing towards their problem, which may be one of the reasons that other forms of therapy have now been able to help as well as they could. In fact, we firmly believe that for people with post concussion syndrome who have been working with their specialists and GPs and physiotherapists that they are absolutely doing the right things, and that if we may be able to help them with what we do as an upper cervical chiropractor, then these other treatments may finally have the opportunity to work the way that they are supposed to as well.

There are six primary methods of upper cervical care including the NUCCA, Atlas Orthogonal and Blair techniques. At Atlas Health, our principal approach is with the Blair Technique. However, we are also certified in the Atlas Orthogonal technique and have studied numerous additions upper cervical methods including the NUCCA, QSM3 and Knee Chest techniques.

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Our practice, located in North Lakes, is dedicated to helping people with health conditions including post concussion syndrome so that they can find relief, long term solutions and get back to enjoying the things in life that matter most to them. If you are looking for help in Brisbane for post concussion syndrome, we would be honoured to assist you to the best of our abilities.

References

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Bussey MD, McLean M, Pinfold J, et al. History of concussion is associated with higher head acceleration and reduced cervical muscle activity during simulated rugby tackle: An exploratory study. Phys Ther Sport. 2019 May;37:105-112. doi: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2019.03.012. Epub 2019 Mar 23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30928840

Carmichael JP, Staton EW, Blatchford PJ, Stevens-Lapsley J. Epidemiology of neck injuries accompanying sport concussions in youth over a 13-year period in community-based healthcare system. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2019 Jun;14(3):334-344. doi: 10.26603/ijspt20190334. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31681492. 

Cheever K, Kawata K, Tierney R, Galgon A. Cervical Injury Assessments for Concussion Evaluation: A Review. J Athl Train. 2016 Dec;51(12):1037-1044. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-51.12.15. Epub 2016 Nov 11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27835042

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Elkin BS, Elliott JM, Siegmund GP. Whiplash Injury or Concussion? A Possible Biomechanical Explanation for Concussion Symptoms in Some Individuals Following a Rear-End Collision. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016 Oct;46(10):874-885. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27690834

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Leddy JJ, Baker JG, Merchant A, et al. Brain or strain? Symptoms alone do not distinguish physiologic concussion from cervical/vestibular injury. Clin J Sport Med. 2015 May;25(3):237-42. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000128. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25051194

Marshall CM, Vernon H, Leddy JJ, Baldwin BA. The role of the cervical spine in post-concussion syndrome. Phys Sportsmed. 2015 Jul;43(3):274-84. doi: 10.1080/00913847.2015.1064301. Epub 2015 Jul 3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26138797 

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Zumsteg D, Wennberg R, Gütling E, Hess K. Whiplash and concussion: similar acute changes in middle-latency SEPs. Can J Neurol Sci. 2006 Nov;33(4):379-86. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17168163

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