Is it All in Your Head? A Case to Get Your Cranium (and Spine) Checked

By Claire Fitzpatrick, D.C.

Do you or someone you know suffer from fatigue, confusion, attention disorders, movement disorders or neurological dysfunction? How about hormonal imbalance, mood swings, and global aches and pains? In addition to seeking medical help, it would be a good idea to get your cranial and spinal integrity checked.

You’ve likely heard this at some time in your life: “My doctor told me it’s all in my head…” Whether she knew it or not, she may be right – but not in the way she may think.

Chiropractors are known for their ability to address vertebral integrity.  However, many do not know that cranial, as well as vertebral, integrity is of the utmost importance for the body to regulate nourishment to the brain and spinal cord and excrete waste products into the vestibular and lymphatic system for elimination. It is not an area of study that is widely explored in general medicine; however, doctors of chiropractic are highly educated and well-versed in this area.

In fact, the more you know about cranial integrity and a person’s ability to thrive, the more you may wish to consult with an expert as a standard of care for you and your family.

Here’s a quick primer:

The skull is made up of two sets of bones - the bones of your face and the bones of your cranium, which make up your forehead and the back of your head.  There are 22 bones in total. The mandible (jawbone) is the only movable bone of the skull. The other bones are connected by fixed joints called sutures.

When the sutures along the cranium are out of alignment, as when spinal vertebrae are out of alignment, it is impossible for us to experience optimal health and wellbeing because the dura mater (the tough covering of connective tissue that attaches to the interior of the cranium) gets twisted.

Picture when you twist a water balloon, how the flow of the water is out of balance and presses more on different parts of the sides. It’s the same with the dura.

Cerebrospinal fluid is the nourishing fluid in which the brain and spinal cord float within the dura. When the flow of nourishment in and out, and indeed the pressure of the fluid itself, is uneven and out of balance, waste can get trapped inside and the brain itself is subjected to uneven pressure. As you may imagine, this isn’t good.

For instance, it is impossible to have a fully-functioning hormonal system when stress exists in the brain – which contains and regulates hormones at the highest level – when your cranium has subtle distortions that limit the movement of cerebrospinal fluid in and out of the head and along the spinal cord.

Cranial and spinal distortions can be assessed and adjusted by your chiropractor. Cranial distortions can be similarly addressed by other highly-educated, licensed health practitioners who specialize in craniosacral therapy. The good news is that addressing these distortions usually creates a change that can be felt immediately in most people.

During an assessment of the cranium and spinal alignment, in addition to the position of the cranial sutures, your vertebrae, your sacrum and pelvis, your chiropractor will also assess:

Eye Position – while a certain amount of asymmetry is normal, if there is a very noticeable difference between the action and the position of the eyes, this could be an indication of cranial dysfunction.

Mandible – she will observe whether the jaw is even on both sides, or if one side appears more compressed than the other.

Ears – if the ears are the same height, or whether one is further front or back from the other

Shoulders – if one shoulder is higher than the other.

Leg Length – if one leg appears shorter than another, but corrects when adjusted

Your Gut – whether there is tension in your belly, and if it is from an uneven pull from the fascia surrounding your gut organs

There is promising research coming out suggesting that correcting cranial and spinal distortions can help ear infections, learning impairment, support healthy blood flow in and out of the brain, and improve nitric oxide production. Research also shows that it can improve the autonomic nervous system function and heart rate variability.

In an age of endless blood tests and impersonal doctor office visits, it’s important to remember that there are doctors who actually put their hands on you to see what’s going on; who can help your body adjust naturally without the use of drugs and surgery; and who you can build a relationship with for you and your family. It behooves you to make trips to a physician well-versed in bodywork as part of your primary health care team.