The Spinal Cord – Part 2
Find Out How Your Brain and Nervous System Work
Part 4: Find out how a misaligned spine may be affecting the function of your nervous system
Last time we introduced the spinal cord as the body’s information super highway. We explained a little bit about what the spinal cord looks like and how it works. In this post we will look at how the function of this information super highway may be affected by spinal misalignments.
A Swedish neurosurgeon by the name of Alf Breig carried out ground-breaking research during the 1950s to 1980s into how the function of the spinal cord and nervous system gets affected by structural misalignments of the body. He published his research in two important books, Adverse Mechanical Tension in the Central Nervous System (1978) and Skull Traction and Cervical Cord Injury (1989). Other researchers, in particular, Yamada and Lee, confirmed Breig’s research.
The main findings are these:
- misalignments in the skeletal structure cause tension and stretching of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and of other parts of the nervous system.
- because the spinal cord is anchored to the tailbone and the base of the skull via the meninges, it gets stretched end-to-end across any extra “kinks” created by spinal misalignments.
- spinal flexion (leaning forward) has the greatest effect on overall tension/stretching.
- it takes only a little bit of stretching to cause a nerve to function differently or to lose its function altogether – long before any structural damage occurs to the nerve tissue itself.
This is important. The main issue is STRETCHING of the nerves, not pinching, which is what medical doctors, chiropractors, and other healthcare professionals traditionally claim to be the problem.
Stretching of the nerve – what does it look like?
In our previous posts on posture and spinal curves, we saw that so-called head-forward carriage and hyperkyphosis (exaggerated curve of the upper or mid-back) have been found to have adverse effects on overall health. This is because the spinal cord has to stretch the extra distance created by “humpbacks” or when the ear sits in front of the shoulder rather than above it. Depending on which part of the spinal cord gets stretched, and how far, different problems may arise.
They may affect those nerve fibres responsible for movement or those for sensation, or even both.
Spinal cord and muscle movement
This is where we have to get a bit technical unfortunately, but bear with us. In order for your body to move, your brain has to give instructions to your muscles to fire and contract. In our post on the parts of the brain, we discussed the brain’s hemispheres.
We said that the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and vice versa.
So, let’s say you want to move your left arm or leg. The right part of your brain responsible for movement starts firing.
It sends signals along so-called upper motor nerves down into your spinal cord. There, these upper motor nerves connect to so-called lower motor nerves while crossing over to the left side of your body. The lower nerves will then instruct the relevant muscle in your left arm or leg to contract.
Depending on where exactly the problem is, and which nerve (upper or lower motor nerve) gets stretched, different types of symptoms may show up. If the upper motor nerve doesn’t work properly, the lower motor nerve continuously fires. This causes continuous contraction of the muscles in the arms or legs. The result is something called spastic paralysis as the muscles spasm and the limb becomes rigid. If the lower motor nerve is not functioning properly, this shows up as something called flaccid paralysis – the muscles in the arm or leg are not working and the extremity goes limp.
Spastic and flaccid paralysis are two extremes along a scale of muscle impairment. More often, muscles simply become tight and achy and your hand or leg might feel stiff. Or you may experience weakness in one hand, making it difficult to open jars or causing you to drop things.
Spinal cord and sensory perception
If the nerves responsible for sensory perception get affected by spinal cord stretching, the result might show up as numbness, tingling, or pins and needles. The nerves which go to your arms and hands exit your spine around your neck/shoulder junction.
If your head sits in front of your shoulders rather than above it, this section of the spinal cord can get stretched. If it gets stretched enough to alter the function of those nerves, you may experience pins and needles or numbness to your arms and hands.
If the nerves get stretched in your lumbar region, where the nerves exit and travel to your legs, you may feel numbness or tingling in your legs or feet. Or you may feel changes to how you perceive touch, temperature, or pressure to one arm or leg.
Putting the pieces together
Let’s put together what we have learned so far:
- bad posture is caused by spinal misalignments
- spinal misalignments can cause stretching of the spinal cord
- stretching of nerves causes them to function differently
- depending on which nerves get affected, different symptoms may show up
You can now understand why problems in your arms and hands are rarely located at the site of pain. Hand and wrist pain, for example, very often originates at the neck/shoulder junction (i.e. where the nerves exit your spine). Doctors who only look at your wrist may diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis or “wear and tear”, when the true underlying problem is that your neck/shoulder junction and upper back are misaligned, changing the function of the nerves that go to your hands. Pain, stiffness, or tingling in your legs may stem from a problem in your low back rather than a localised problem down in your thigh, knee, hamstrings or calf muscles, etc.
Now you have a better understanding of how your spinal cord works to move your body and to cause sensory perception in your arms and legs. You can now also understand a little more about why we treat the entire body, not just where it hurts – because the underlying cause of your pain may reside elsewhere in your body.
With Advanced Biostructural Correction™ we have found a way to reduce the tension/stretching of your nervous system.
With each treatment we take a little bit of the stretch off your spinal cord. As we do so, the nerves will start functioning better and symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling, muscle stiffness, and weakness will start improving.
- Breig, Alf. Adverse Mechanical Tension in the Central Nervous System: An Analysis of Cause and Effect. Almqvuist & Wiksell International, Stockholm, Sweden, 1978.
- Yamada S, Iacono RP, Andrade T, Mandybur G, Yamada BS: Pathophysiology of tethered cord syndrome. Neurosurg Clin N Am 6:311–323, 1995.
- Yamada S, Iacono RP, Yamada BS, Pathophysiology of the tethered spinal cord. Yamada S: Tethered Cord Syndrome Park Ridge, IL, AANS, 1996. 29–48.
- Yamada S, Knierim D, Yonekura M, Schultz R, Maeda G: Tethered Cord Syndrome. J Am Paraplegia Soc 6:58–61, 1983.
- Yamada S, Lonser RR: Adult tethered cord syndrome. J Spinal Disord 13:319–323, 2000.
- Yamada S, Won DJ: What is the true tethered cord syndrome?. Childs Nerv Syst 23:371–375, 2007.
- Yamada S, Won DJ, Pezeshkpour G, Yamada BS, Yamada SM, Siddiqi J, et al.: Pathophysiology of tethered cord syndrome and similar complex disorders.Neurosug Focus 23:2E6, 2007
- Lee GY, Paradiso G, Tator CH, Gentili F, Massicotte EM, Fehlings MG: Surgical management of tethered cord syndrome in adults: indications, techniques, and long-term outcomes in 60 patients. J Neurosurg Spine 4:123–131, 2006.
- Erwin, M.J et al., Thoraco-Lumbar Junction Disc herniation and Tight Filum: A Unique Combination? Int Journal of Clin Med 5.12, 2014.