Why does my head feel so heavy?

Posted in Head Pain Disorders on Oct 27, 2022

One of the more common questions that we are routinely asked - or that people tell us is going on - is that they say that, "My head just feels like it's way too heavy. And it's contributing to headaches, or neck pain, or jaw pain, or pulling into the shoulders, or any number of different things that are going on right up to the top." And people don't really know exactly what that means. So I want to take a couple of moments and just describe and illustrate the general process as far as what is going on and what it is that can actually be done to help you out if it feels like your head feels heavy. 

The atlas vertebra and why your head feels so heavy

One of the first things that are important to understand is to have an appreciation of how much your head actually weighs. What we have here is we have a shotput, and this particular shotput weighs nine pounds or approximately four kilograms. Why have I selected this particular shotput? Well, the reason for that is that an average adult-sized human hit is going to be weighing somewhere in the vicinity between eight and 10 pounds. And you might be thinking, "Okay, wow, that sounds like an awful lot of weight!" Yes, it is. 

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And part of the reason for that is because so much of the fluid or the matter inside of your skull is, of course, going to be water. Now the thing about it is it sits on top of a little vertebra called the atlas. It's about this big, and as you can appreciate this only weighs a few ounces. So we have this disproportionate relationship (hence why it's called an atlas) of this tiny little vertebra here with a massive weight being supported on the top of it and the caveat there is support it now there is an important aspect to understand about the relationship between the skull and between the atlas. 

Unlike other vertebrae in your neck, which are maintained and have discs to support their structure, there is no disc between the skull and between your atlas. And so what happens is this relationship here is going to be suspended essentially by muscles by ligaments. And as a consequence of that, it's going to of course allow us the ability to move our head: turning to the left, turning to the right, looking up, and looking down. But the trade-off is in order to be able to do that, it's not going to be quite as strong, as supported as stable as all of the areas in the lower part of your neck. And what that means then is it means that this area is potentially susceptible to damage to physical injury. 

A heavy head comes from misalignment with your atlas vertebra

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No, we're not talking about the kind of physical injury where your head is going to fall off your shoulders. But what we are talking about are little micro tears of the ligaments that normally support and allow your head to be able to move and are facilitated by the alignment motion of that Atlas vertebra. So here's what happens if you have a particular physical misalignment. 

Let's say that the vertebra should normally be supporting the centre of gravity of your skull like this. But then it shifts and offsets so that its centre of gravity gets moved even by a couple of millimetres. Even though a fraction of an inch is a really, really small thing, suddenly, what's going to happen is your brain is going to say, "Uh oh, we need to change our position. We need to change our orientation. We need to start using the muscles and the ligaments in a different way." 

Because guess what? You're not able to support that normal weight in the way that you were able to before. And so what will very characteristically happen in the majority of people is that their head is going to start coming forward just like this. And as a consequence of that, it's going to be putting undue stress and strain on those muscles, on those ligaments, and ultimately onto those nerves in and through your neck. Now, if it's a one-off, no big deal there's no problem with that. But the problem is, is that so many people think that this is just a temporary thing they think that they're tight muscles because they are getting older or maybe they're being lazy with their posture. Posture is a reflection of where the stress is and what's going on beneath the surface.

It's a reflection of how your body is intelligently adapting to the stresses and strains that are going on there. And so when these muscles and when these ligaments are being under undue stress and strain, then it's going to be causing everything to have to try to maintain the balance. But because that centre of gravity is not going to be positioned exactly where it's supposed to be, the effect is the additional stress and strain on your muscles. And guess what you are going to feel? Not unlike if you were holding a shotput, it's normally supposed to be held close to your body. But try this with any heavyweight: hold it out in front of you, and tell me what it feels like at that point. Because the ball, the weight, whatever you're holding will not get magically heavy by any stretch of the imagination. No, but it certainly is going to feel like that.

And in fact, if you are holding something out in front of you, what you're probably going to notice is you're going to feel the additional stress and strain (guess where?) across the upper part of your shoulders. You're going to feel it at the base of your neck. You're probably also going to feel it as your chin starts jutting forward, start to ache, and burns across the back of your skull. So all of these things, all of these sensations be at the muscle pulling the shoulder discomfort, the next discomfort, the headache, the jaw pulling all of these things they are the byproduct effect that goes in that same category in terms of why your head feels like it is so heavy now what it means under the circumstances.

A heavy head feeling is not simply a matter of bad posture or laziness

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And it's not simply a matter of just doing some physical exercises or working on your posture, because you see if it was a simple matter of that, then all we would have to do is say all right, sit up, stand up straight and "boom," problem solved. But very seldom is that ever actually the case. And the reason for that is that when you're talking about something that may have shifted or gotten stuck, your neck is no longer free and flexible and mobile in the way it was prior to a certain injury. And no, it's not always the kind of injury with broken bones, dislocations, bleeding, or anything of that sort. But if it's the kind of injury where there's even a tiny offset - again, a couple of millimetres - and if it gets stuck there because the ligament essentially is holding it prohibiting it from being able to come back where it should be. 

Then that shift in the centre of gravity stays. And what it's going to require is it's going to require precision, essentially to get things unstuck. Again, if it's simply a matter of "Do this stretch. Do this exercise," Wonderful, awesome! And I sincerely hope that by doing these kinds of things, you're noticing there's a difference and it can take the weight off your shoulders so that your head doesn't feel quite as heavy. But if you are doing that and yet that sensation persists - it still feels as gnarly, nasty, and heavy as it did under those other circumstances - guess what the odds are? It's because you need that little bit of extra something in order to help it move and stabilise them in the way that it's actually supposed to. Getting the centre of weight of your skull back onto your head under your shoulder supported by that outlet so that everything is then free and flexible to work the way that it is supposed to. And this is one of the most common things that people do actually describe after they've gotten a precise upper neck correction. 

Upper Cervical Care for a Heavy Head Feeling

So what we call in the Upper Cervical Chiropractic world, is an atlas adjustment (and this is not the kind of general procedure where you are twisting, cracking, popping, stretching the neck: no nothing like that). You see when we're dealing with these tiny little misalignments of the Atlas vertebra, it will be misaligned potentially in any number of 360 degrees. And in addition to that, because all human beings are built differently not just on the outside, but also on the inside when we take those individual differences into account by doing a series of physical tests, neurological tests, and specialised diagnostic imaging, it means that we don't have to use a whole bunch of force or a whole bunch of work in order to get things centred again. Because your body wants to be able to bring things back to centre. All we have to do is then just give it that little bit of motion in that direction and guess what? Your body does the rest of the work from there. I hope this video has been useful helpful in understanding why is it that you may have that heavy head kind of sensation, but also more importantly, what can you do about it and how is it that having a specific Atlas adjustment would be able to help you out in that regard.

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