There is an old saying: “The simplest explanation is usually the correct one.” So when it comes to experiencing symptoms such as cervical radiculopathy and fibromyalgia, as different as these things appear on the surface, the most likely explanation is that there is a common underlying cause. First, cervical radiculopathy refers to irritation of the nerve roots as they exit your neck and transmit down to your hands. Commonly attributed to disc damage or neck arthritis, problems in the neck can contribute to pain and tingling in your hands, hand and arm weakness, and neck and shoulder pain.
Second, fibromyalgia is a diagnosis of exclusion (which means from a pathological perspective, your CT and MRI scans and blood tests all appear “normal” even though things definitely aren’t) which includes symptoms of full body fatigue, pain, sensitivity, fatigue, brain fog, and other mental issues. The question you may now be wondering is how can cervical radiculopathy and fibromyalgia be linked? All you need to know is a little bit about the structure and function of the top vertebrae in your neck, and things start to make sense.
What’s the connection between cervical radiculopathy and fibromyalgia?
All levels of your spine contain what are known as dentate ligaments that function as tension cables to maintain the relative position of your spinal cord and nerves within your vertebral column. In the lower part of your neck, these ligaments are flimsy and permit approximately 10mm worth of giving before they start to exert tension on your nerves.
The upper neck is different. The C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis) vertebrae also contain these dentate ligaments, except up here they are broad, thick, and permit only 3mm worth of stretch before they can start to cause issues. Of additional interest, found only in the upper neck are a series of ligaments known as myodural bridges that in turn anchor the connective tissue around your spinal cord to these top two vertebrae and their associated muscles and ligaments. All of this is to produce stability in the area.
The problem then is that this area is not sitting in its neutral position because it has misaligned, shifted, and gotten locked beyond its normal 3mm point, now this arrangement has the potential to produce that tension that stretches the dentate ligaments and in turn stretches the cord. The upper neck is the only area of your spinal that is built this way and capable of creating issues via this mechanism. Now, let’s see how that is related to cervical radiculopathy and fibromyalgia. First, when your spinal cord stretches, the problems do not stay local to just that one area. Researchers find that stretch can actually be transmitted along the entire length of your cord and produce symptoms upwards of 4 segments away. What this means in terms of cervical radiculopathy is that a problem at C1 or C2 has the potential to produce a stretching effect of the nerves down at C5-C6, which are the ones that transmit down to your hands.
Of course, disc issues and arthritis in that area are also very common and can certainly contribute. However, if that stretch or pressure stemming from the top remains, no matter how much treatment you have down at the bottom of your neck, there is still a missing piece of the puzzle. This is especially important for people who experience cervical radiculopathy and fibromyalgia who have been to the GP, socialists, massage therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and perhaps even surgeons but who still experience pain, tingling, or weakness down in their hands. It could well be that there is still something amiss with the alignment at the top of your neck that is holding back your progress.
Now, as it relates to fibromyalgia, guess what? The stretch also works in the opposite direction! So not only can an issue at C1-C2 affect down into your lower neck, but it can also extend upwards into your brain itself, which is the control and primary sensory processing centre for all information transmitted in your body. Furthermore, mechanical problems at C1-C2 have also been shown to affect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow, which seems to be associated not only with cervical radiculopathy, but also with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, whiplash, concussion, and myalgic enephalomyelopathy. So, if you visualise a balloon with a piece of string attached where the balloon is your brain and the string is your spinal cord, I hope you can appreciate that if you pull on where the string meets the balloon THAT is how a problem with the alignment in your upper neck can produce both symptoms of cervical radiculopathy below and fibromyalgia above.
Upper Cervical Chiropractic, Cervical Radiculopathy, and Fibromyalgia
In terms of helping people who experience cervical radiculopathy and fibromyalgia, there are often a series of interrelated issues that need to be addressed. And as we mentioned, one of the most important may be in making sure that the alignment of your upper neck is free to move as it is designed. In this area, here is where a unique approach to healthcare known as Upper Cervical chiropractic may be especially important. Unlike general spinal manipulation, there is NO CRACKING, STRETCHING, OR TWISTING with an upper cervical correction. The procedure is designed on purpose to be as gentle and precise as possible in order to maximise the odds of a favorable outcome.
Upper Cervical care is a special division of general chiropractic developed and researched in the USA, There are actually several forms of upper cervical care including the Atlas Orthogonal and NUCCA techniques. In our own practice, we utilise what is known as the Blair technique as we find it offers the most precise and individualised information to help people not simply experience relief with cervical radiculopathy and fibromyalgia, but get the best possible results so that you don’t need continual adjustments over and over.
Our practice, Atlas Health, is the leader in Blair upper cervical chiropractic in Australia. Located in North Lakes (north Brisbane), our focus is on helping people get back to enjoying the things in life that matter most to them. We see people from across the greatest SE Queensland region (and interstate) with a variety of conditions including migraines, TMJ disorders, balance disorders, cervical radiculogpthy, and fibromyalgia.
We also offer a 15-minute over-the-phone consultation at no charge so that you can ask one of our doctors of chiropractic any questions about your particular case so that you can decide if care may be right for you. Simply click the contact us link on this page, or call us direct at 07 3188 9329.
We hope this article has been both informative and valuable for you in helping to connect the dots, and also in being able to find the solutions that you are looking for.
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