Nerve Short Circuits: your crooked head—occipital bone

Very few chiropractors can adjust one of the most important joints in our body, yet doing so brings about amazing, often miraculous, results. When your occipital bone at the base of your skull slips off the atlas—(C1) the very topmost bone of your spine—(and it often does), your health is severely impacted.

The occipital bone joins to the topmost neck vertebra (the “atlas” or “cervical 1, C1”—the first bone of your spine at the top of your neck). This is the joint that moves when you nod your head “yes”.

When the occipital-atlas joint misaligns, it puts pressure on important nerve elements: the brain stem and very top of the spinal cord, the lifeline of your nervous system. Nerves in our brain stem run essential life processes like breathing, heartbeat, and digestion. The spinal cord in this area is the “central cable” that holds nerve fibers running all the way down your body and returning nerve messages from your body back to the brain.

Occipital “side slip” causes far-reaching health problems

This topmost joint is often subluxated (misaligned with changed nerve conduction that can affect organ function). Sometimes we can feel pain or pressure seeming to come from the back of the neck just below the skull, get tension headaches…often not.

The effects of this all-too-common misalignment are felt by millions yet most who have it haven’t a clue. When the occipital bone is “out”, off to either the right or left side, it is common to experience:

♦ Headaches ♦ Migraines ♦ Dizziness
♦ Neck pains and stiffness ♦ Jaw pains or “clicking” ♦ Mental “fog”

Because of the far-reaching nerves in this area that eventually branch into our 24 nerve roots that connect every organ, muscle, and system in the body, it is just as common to have:

♦ Low back pain ♦ Chest pain ♦ Heart arrhythmia
♦ Lost leg strength (and frequent hip, knee, ankle injuries) ♦ Irritable bowel ♦ Poor digestion
♦ Poor coordination (falls, clumsiness) ♦ Dysbiosis ♦ Adrenal fatigue

…or almost any other symptom. In fact, the effects are a misaligned skull are so far-reaching that loss of strength in the psoas and other hip and thigh muscles is one test chiropractors (the ones who understand and adjust this joint) sometimes use to check for it.

Could this be the cause of my health problem?

Well, maybe. And that is why chiropractic expertise and a look at the whole body is crucial.

Named the atlanto-occipital joint, it is often misaligned but perhaps a better question is: Should the occipital-atlas joint be adjusted?

The right number and kind of adjustments can set the stage for nature to heal; too many adjustments in the wrong place can undo any good that was done and slow down the healing mechanism.” –Dr. Clarence Gonstead

Usually, the occipital bone (O) – atlas (C1) joint becomes misaligned by force: forceps delivery during birth—it is very impactful to pull on the head/skull of an infant during birth; over-long labors or incorrectly positioned babies during birth (this is why we love midwives); later on in life, sports injuries, motor vehicle injuries, anything with physical force and especially one severe enough to cause a concussion.

The first thing to find out is whether this joint misalignment is the primary cause of other problems


Has the occipital joint moved out of place because of a problem somewhere else? Please understand that occipital misalignment can be caused by other things.

For example, when the occipital-atlas joint is off, you might be told you have different leg lengths when you do not.

However, you might actually have different leg lengths that are creating spinal instability and causing you to carry your hips, shoulders, neck, head at posturally incorrect angles.

How do we determine whether and what to adjust?

A Gonstead correction of nerve pressure is more than just an adjustment… it is a scientific “setting” of the affected vertebra ONTO the disc below. It is of the utmost importance to be specific in the application of philosophy and especially the adjustment.” –Dr. Clarence Gonstead

During a comprehensive examination Dr. Greg Sternquist reviews your entire clinical picture:

  1. We must get a very thorough case history and complete symptom pattern;
  2. Nutrition Response Testing® evaluates organ function that may be related to your symptoms;
  3. Nutrition Response Testing can also evaluate whether the symptom pattern is being caused primarily by structural misalignments, or, whether the structural misalignments are “slipping” because of an inflammatory process elsewhere—these need our nutritional care plan.
  4. The structural evaluation continues with visualization, static and motion palpation, motion and function measures, and other neuro-orthopedic tests as appropriate.
  5. The Gonstead technique uses low-energy, diagnostic x-ray to carefully measure spinal bone gaps and alignments.

Next, after these thorough methods of assessment and relying on his expert training and nearly 30 years experience, Dr. Sternquist can determine what care is truly needed, can give a proper adjustment, assuring biomechanically sound correction of your spine, and can leave alone areas that do not need to be adjusted.

Adjusting this joint, when it is the correct thing to do, can help dizziness, vision problems, migraines or recurrent headaches. No more lost work days or relying on medications to cover up pain.

Find and Fix What’s Really Wrong

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Leg Length Inequality and the Gonstead Technique. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Conference on Research and Education Monterey, California. June 21-23, 1991: 61-64.

Postacchini F, Massobrio M, Idiopathic coccygodynia. Analysis of fifty-one operative cases and a radiographic study of the normal coccyx. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 1983 65(8): 1116-1124.

Hall GC, Kinsman MJ, Nazar RG, et al. Atlanto-occipital dislocation. World Journal of Orthopedics. 2015;6(2):236-243.

Herbst RW. Gonstead Chiropractic Science and Art: The Chiropractic Methodology of Clarence S. Gonstead, D.C. #9: Atlas and Occipital Condyle Misalignments. Today’s Chiropractic September-October 1975; 4(5):26-27.

Herbst RW. Gonstead Chiropractic Science and Art: The Chiropractic Methodology of Clarence S. Gonstead, D.C. #12: Repositioning the Atlas. Today’s Chiropractic March-April 1976; 5(2):24-25.

Herbst RW. Gonstead Chiropractic Science and Art: The Chiropractic Methodology of Clarence S. Gonstead, D.C. #13: Occipital Condyle Misalignments. Today’s Chiropractic June 1976; 5(3):22-23.

Herbst RW. Gonstead Chiropractic Science and Art: The Chiropractic Methodology of Clarence S. Gonstead, D.C. #14: Repositioning the Occiput. Today’s Chiropractic July-August 1976; 5(4):34-35.

Dr. Greg Sternquist

Restoring health for over 20 years, Dr. Sternquist is an activist for bringing health to healthcare. His mission is to provide safe, drug-free, natural treatment plans while educating on optimal health, nutrition and lifestyle. “Dr. Greg” received his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the prestigious Palmer College after completing his Bachelor of Science at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. After specializing in the respected Gonstead chiropractic method for nearly two decades, Dr. Greg felt he needed a new set of tools when his own health began failing. A former competitive cyclist, avid outdoors enthusiast, and private pilot—something had to change! After healing himself, he completed over 2,000 hours of continuing education in nutrition including certification in the elite Applied Clinical Training program through Ulan Nutrition Systems to become Alaska's first advanced clinician in Nutrition Response Testing in 2008. Dr. Greg also specializes in the Gonstead method of Chiropractic care. Now in private practice for 26+ years and with over 2500 hours of nutritional therapy training and advanced Chiropractic continuing education, Dr. Greg Sternquist has become a renowned expert helping thousands of wonderful people get off the cycle of repeating chronic health problems and only temporary results to now enjoy more energy, become free of unwanted symptoms, and look and feel the way they want.

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