Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has long been thought to be an incurable disease of an autoimmune nature that directly affects the central nervous system (CNS). Another school of thought is that it is caused by a viral infection that simply lies dormant for a time and then attacks the CNS. I personally believe that new information coming out of the upper cervical chiropractic research world regarding a longitudinal study will soon change that way of thinking entirely, but until then, here’s what you need to know about MS.
MS is a disease of the central nervous system that affects the way information is passed along throughout the brain and spinal cord that collectively comprise the CNS. This system is made up by individual cells called neurons. These cells are then wrapped by an insulating layer called the myelin sheath. This layer not only separates the neurons from the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), but it also allows for rapid transmission of electrical signals (the method by which these cells communicate information).
The cerebrospinal fluid has two very important functions: 1.It supplies a nice medium to suspend the brain providing protection. 2. It helps remove metabolic wastes while delivering nutrients and energy to the brain.
The CSF has seen resurgence in the world of research due particularly to the advances in neuroimaging with the insinuation that it maybe vastly more important than once believed. Chiropractors have long believed that the CSF was pumped much like blood. With functional and upright MRI, we now know our assumptions were in fact correct.
Numerous ailments can occur when the flow of the CSF becomes altered. In my opinion, this is the beginning of the pathological process creating scar tissue as the CSF begins to damage surrounding neurons. When an individual has multiple areas of plaques (scarring) within their CNS they meet the criteria to receive the official diagnoses of MS (literally translated, multiple scars).
The Upper Cervical Difference
When an injury occurs, whether subtle or traumatic, distortions from normal anatomical positions can be observed. When this occurs in the cervical spine, a number of issues can arise, but for the purpose of this article, we'll be discussing some of the changes seen with MS.
First, the bones in the neck begin to straighten out and the normal secondary curvature is lost. Tiny ligaments called the dentate ligaments are attached to the spinal vertebrae and anchor the protective layer surrounding the brain and spinal cord called dura mater (meninges). Because the dura mater is one continuous membrane from the skull down through the spine, when the bones misalign and the normal curvature of the neck is lost, these ligaments place traction on the spinal cord and tug the brain downward.
At the bottom of your brain sits the cerebellum. At the bottom of the cerebellum sit the tonsils of the cerebellum. As the brain is pulled downward, the cerebellar tonsils herniate through the foramen magnum (the hole in the bottom of the skull where the brain stem exits, literally translated “big hole”). This acts like a cork in a bottle, damming up the flow of the CSF.
The CSF continues to pulsate though now it has nowhere to go but inwards toward the brain, or outwards toward the skull. This is how the plaques are formed. The CSF continually bangs into the neurons causing damage. Think of it like a callus being rubbed on the skin of your hand. Whenever damage occurs to cells an inflammatory response is sure to follow and this is how MS patient's end up with the demyelination of neurons. This is also characteristic of a few types of neurodegenerative disorders, but particularly MS.
It is the upper cervical chiropractor’s job to realign these bones and allow the normal curvature to be restored in the neck. This allows the traction to be taken off of the spinal cord and brain, effectively uncorking the cerebellar tonsils and restoring the proper flow of the CSF, which, in turn, halts the progression of the plaques and in some instances, allows the neural tissue to heal.
This is not a new phenomenon. There are 20 cases that were documented over a 5 year span at the BJ Palmer Clinic in Iowa during the 1940’s and 50’s. [Killinger LZ, Azad A. Multiple Sclerosis Patients Under Chiropractic Care; A Retrospective Study, Palmer J Res, 1997;2(4):96-100]
Another 81 cases were analyzed in a retrospective study featuring both MS and Parkinson's Disease patients. 40 of the 44 with MS and 34 of the 37 with Parkinson's showed symptomatic improvement with no further progression of the disease while under care. Full text found here: http://www.chiro.org/research/ABSTRACTS/Eighty-One_Patients_With_MS.shtml
One study followed a particular lady who was diagnosed with chronic progressive MS at 47 years of age, 3 years following the diagnosis of MS. All MS symptoms were gone following 4 months of upper cervical chiropractic care and an MRI showed all plaques had stopped progressing, while some began to heal. This case study can be found here [Elster EL. Upper Cervical Chiropractic Management of a Multiple Sclerosis Patient: A Case Report. J Vertebral Subluxation Res, 2001; 4(2):22-30].
There are many more studies out there and I am confident many more to come! If someone you know has been diagnosed with MS, please take the time to share with them this article.
Dr. Andrew R. Burns