Atlas Correction: small vertebra, large influence

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Are you tormented by headache, neck pain, dizziness, tinnitus, or back pain? Then your atlas vertebra could be out of alignment. When your first cervical vertebra moves, it can affect your whole body. In this article, we explain:

✔ which symptoms and conditions the atlas vertebra can cause,

✔ how atlas problems specifically affect headaches and symptoms in the hip and lower back,

✔ how such symptoms can be effectively treated with an atlas correction,

✔ and which exercises you can do yourself to help ease your atlas.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Germany's most trusted pain specialist and author of several bestselling self-help books on the treatment of pain conditions.

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Roland Liebscher-Bracht is Germany's most trusted pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on pain treatment. Together with his wife, Dr. med. Petra Bracht, he has developed a revolutionary method to treat pain conditions. With the help of the so-called "osteopressure", where you press specific points on your body, and special stretching exercises, pain can be stopped entirely without medication or surgical intervention. This pain treatment allows you to alleviate pain by yourself. Find out how exactly this works in this article or our numerous YouTube videos.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on self-help against pain.

Read more

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on pain treatment. Together with his wife, the physician Dr. Petra Bracht, he has developed a revolutionary new form of pain treatment: With the so-called "Osteopressur", in which certain points on your body are pressed, and special stretching exercises, pain can be stopped completely without medication or surgical intervention. It is particularly important that this pain treatment gives you the opportunity to help yourself against your pain in a self-determined way. You can find out exactly how this works in this article and in the numerous YouTube videos.

1. Atlas Vertebra and Head Joints

The atlas is the first cervical vertebra (C1) and the topmost vertebra of your spine. It is also the principal component of your so-called head joints. This term covers the joint between the skull and the atlas – the atlantooccipital joint – and the joint between the atlas and the second cervical vertebra (C2) – the atlantoaxial joint. 1) These joints enable the head to move and thus allow you to turn and tilt your head. Complaints in this area are also referred to as the OAA Complex (OAA = occiput-atlas-axis). Occiput is a term for the head, while the atlas and axis are the first two vertebrae. Of course, this entire area of the upper cervical spine is commonly known as the neck.

Illustration of the atlas vortex.

© stihii |

In contrast to the rest of your spinal vertebrae, the atlas vertebra has no vertebral body. It consists of an anterior and a posterior arch, plus a thick bony mass connecting the two arches. A channel for the spinal cord runs through the middle and continues throughout your spine’s length. The atlas has so-called transverse processes on the front and the remains of a spinous process on the back. This is also where the numerous small muscles of the neck musculature are attached.

The name given to this first cervical vertebra is no coincidence. The term “Atlas” is derived from the Titan of Greek mythology, who was given a punishment after losing a titanic fight against the Olympians. From then on, Atlas had to stand on the edge of the earth and support the sky. This was to prevent the earth and sky from getting too close.

The atlas vertebra performs a similar task inside your body: it is the link between your head and the rest of your body, yet at the same time, it acts as a support for your skeleton. This should ensure everything stays in the right place. But sometimes the atlas vertebra shifts a little, and the foundation of your skeleton thus becomes a little skewed. You can feel the effects of bad posture all over your body. We’ll explain the typical symptoms and resultant complaints in the next chapter.

An atlas correction, or atlas therapy, aims to rebalance that vertebra. There are different approaches to achieve this, and our own highly effective approach to correcting the vertebrae is presented in the chapter on treatment.

Get More Exercises to Relieve Atlas Misalignment Pain

Download our free PDF GUIDE and start relieving your neck & shoulder pain now.

The Liebscher & Bracht Atlas Correction Guide
All gain. No pain.

2. Symptoms and Causes of Atlas Vertebra Problems

Misalignment of the atlas vertebra itself does not usually cause pain. Instead, a misaligned vertebra can result in several other complaints. Typical symptoms of an atlas misalignment or an atlas blockage are:2)

 As you can see, the atlas not only has to support and balance the weight of the head; if it is misplaced, it can contribute to many other bodily ailments. An atlas correction is often necessary to get everything back on track. But before we go into vertebral correction in our treatment section, let’s explain how an atlas shift can occur.

2.1 Triggers for an atlas misalignment, atlas blockage or atlas displacement

Some may have had an atlas deformity since birth, and falls and whiplash injuries can also favor a vertebral shift. But even if you sit carefully at your desk, you can still get an atlas blockage simply because working in front of a computer requires sitting for long periods with your head always pushed forward. This one-sided posture gives you a ‘vulture neck’ and creates additional tenseness around your neck and shoulder area. The whole thing is compounded by stress and intense concentration. 3) The atlas is repeatedly pulled into an unnatural position and thus no longer sits symmetrically in its intended position.

A man rubbing his paining neck.

© g-stockstudio |

If the atlas vertebra is displaced by tension in the surrounding muscles and fasciae, this will affect the head’s center of gravity in the longer term. After all, there’s a weight of around six kilograms bearing down on the vertebra. Any resultant poor posture favors the development of scoliosis, jaw pain, and eventually even pelvic misalignment.

Incidentally, even if you have few or none of these symptoms, you can correct your atlas vertebrae with our exercises and do yourself, and your health, a lot of good. X-rays taken during a study of 212 symptom-free patients showed that only six percent had the correct symmetry between the first cervical vertebrae – atlas and axis – and the head’s skull bone (occiput).4) This means most people have an atlas vertebra that has moved, and which could potentially cause problems.

2.2 The Atlas and Its Effects on Headaches

Extensive computer work is not optimal for your overall posture – and certainly not for your atlas vertebra. In a study involving more than 550 participants using computer workstations, only four people stated they were free of symptoms. Most cited headaches as their most common type of pain.5) Another study of over 300 headache patients discovered treatable findings in the cervical spine in more than half the cases. In such circumstances, an atlas correction can make a significant contribution to relieving these symptoms.

A woman rubbing her temples in pain.

© sebra |

These results clarify those problems in the cervical spine, and with the atlas vertebra, often result in headaches. Moreover, migraines, dizziness, tinnitus, or neck pain may then follow in a chain reaction.

An upper atlas blockage is a dysfunction, i.e., a functional disorder that manifests itself between the occiput and the atlas vertebra. If affected, you will notice an intense headache, but you will still be able to move your head well.6) With our exercises’ help, you can usually make an atlas correction yourself by loosening and stretching the muscles and fasciae in this area.

An atlas blockage can also be located between the atlas vertebra and the underlying axis. And here again, you will notice a headache. This dysfunction often occurs in younger patients, and, in contrast to an upper atlas blockage, there is a seriously disruptive restriction of movement during rotation. Unfortunately, the upper end of the atlas vertebra is tough to access, and no therapist can treat the bone directly. However, this is not the case with a blockage between the atlas and axis.

2.3 The Atlas and Complaints in the Lumbar, Pelvic and Hip Areas

The atlas vertebra dramatically contributes to the body’s overall equilibrium. So it’s no surprise that atlas vertebra movements or symptoms can also result in problems and painful conditions elsewhere in the body. Doctors have repeatedly noticed that patients with proven atlas movement often suffer pain in the lumbar, pelvic, and hip areas. Researchers systematically evaluated X-rays exhibiting what is known as atlas hypoplasia for a year.7) This means parts of the vertebra were already worn or unusually weak.

A woman holding her hurting back.

© Andrey Popov |

This evaluation revealed that, in such cases, patients also had a higher load on their lower back, i.e., the lumbar spine. When joints and vertebral bodies in this region are stressed over a long period, this can cause pain and promote the development of osteoarthritis.

Doctors were also able to determine the effects on the hip region. Here, they observed shallow and dysplastic (worn or malformed) hip joints and structurally relevant changes such as different leg lengths.8) You can also read more about hip pain in our Encyclopedia of Pain article. Finally, this analysis also showed that atlas disorders usually resulted in a combination of lumbar spine and hip complaints, with isolated symptoms being significantly less common.9)

An atlas correction is particularly important because the atlas can have far-reaching effects on your whole body. Atlas correction is intended to prevent pain and discomfort from spreading further. Simultaneously, our exercises can help reduce heavy strain on your entire back and hips significantly.

Get More Exercises to Relieve Atlas Misalignment Pain

Download our free PDF GUIDE and start relieving your neck & shoulder pain now.

The Liebscher & Bracht Atlas Correction Guide
All gain. No pain.

3. Atlas Correction – An Effective Treatment for Symptoms

An atlas correction is helpful where pain or discomfort can be directly attributed to the atlas vertebra. And with atlas therapy, the vertebra should be able to move back into place. However, atlas correction can sometimes be a challenge. This is because the vertebra is so tucked away; it can be difficult for a therapist to reach the transverse processes. But don’t worry, you can still treat the vertebra.

To make it easier to understand our therapeutic approach, we would again like to remind you why the atlas vertebra can get out of balance: A large number of small muscles, ligaments, and fasciae attach to this vertebra. The neck musculature becomes hard and tense, pulling on the atlas, which thus slips a little. Depending on where the tension and stress are highest, it can shift to the left or right, forwards or backward.

📌 Who Conducts Atlas Corrections?

As well as doctors, alternative practitioners, especially chiropractors, also perform atlas corrections. Chiropractors work by manipulating bones. The long-term effect of chiropractic methods is yet to be evaluated.

Roland pointing at which points to press using a model skeleton.

Liebscher & Bracht pain therapy uses the manual therapeutic technique of osteopressure. Here, where the therapist can reach them, targeted pain receptors in the periosteum are pressed on the atlas and the surrounding vertebrae. This sends a message to the brain to relax, and the excessive tension in the muscles and fasciae normalizes. This effect also occurs when the therapist presses the axis, the second cervical vertebra.

The relaxation effects can be transmitted to the atlas vertebra, which means an atlas correction can be indirectly carried out. The outcome of the relaxation is that the articular surfaces and vertebral bodies are no longer pressed together as strongly. The brain registers this, and the pain stops.

To keep yourself permanently free of atlas pain, you should do our exercises regularly in addition to osteopressure. This will ensure the muscles, ligaments, and fasciae around the atlas vertebra remain supple, won’t become matted, and never pull too firmly on your vertebrae. Using these exercises, you can effectively contribute to your atlas correction.

📌 What Is Arlen’s Atlas Therapy?

Atlas therapy using the Arlen technique can only be carried out by a doctor. Short impulses are applied to the muscles and fasciae at the junction between the head and neck. This should induce relaxation to occur.

4. Atlas Correction Exercises

This chapter will show you some practical stretching exercises and a foam rolling massage to relax your muscles and soothe the vertebrae (You can find additional atlas adjustment stretches here). If you are trying our exercises for the first time, it’s best to read our checklist underneath the exercise description for atlas correction.

▶ Now Watch This Exercise Video About Atlas Correction:


A woman is performing an atlas correction exercise.

Exercise #1:

Sit upright on the floor, or a chair, without leaning over. Bend your left arm and turn your head to the left at a 45-degree angle. Place your right hand over your head as far as your left ear and pull your chin towards your larynx. Then stretch your head forward and downwards. As you stretch, make sure your chin is still aligned with your larynx.

Do an intense stretch for two to two and a half minutes. Then repeat the same exercise on the right. With this exercise, you effectively expand the many lateral muscles and fasciae strands attached to the atlas vertebra. This allows you to relieve tension, by thus correcting the atlas yourself.

A woman pulling her head down during an atlas correction exercise.

Exercise #2:

Sit upright again, grasp your head with your fingertips well to the back, and move your chin towards your chest. Intensify the stretch by also using your hands and arms to push forward. You will feel the stretch in the middle as well as relatively high up your cervical spine. Continue to stretch for two minutes. This exercise stretches your straight neck muscles, and the gradual decrease of tensile stress should also produce an atlas correction.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Exercise #3:

Take the mini massage ball or a foam roller from our fascia set. Now, at the back of your head, look for the exact point where your skull bone ends. Many people have a small dent in their head. Position the mini massage ball at that point and roll a little to the right and left. Tilt your head forward at the same time.

This won’t produce any direct atlas correction, but it will relax the muscles around the atlas. In addition, it will convey this relaxation into the immediate vicinity of the vertebra.

📌 Checklist for the Liebscher & Bracht Exercises

To make our exercises even easier to perform correctly, we have summarized the most important information in a checklist. This gives you all our tips at a glance and will help you to practice with confidence.

✅ Always orient your efforts on a personal pain scale from one to ten. You’ll get the best results if you work at a level of eight or nine for each stretch. Nine means: Though you feel intense pain, you can still breathe calmly while stretching, and do not feel tense. 

✅ Practice six days a week and do the exercises at least once a day. If you want to support the calming repair processes in your muscles and fasciae even more, you can repeat the exercises every 12 hours: once in the morning and once in the evening.

✅ You should spend between two and two and a half minutes on each exercise phase and hold the respective stretch for at least 90 seconds.

✅ Always use professional tools to treat your pain. If you rely on cheap or even defective products, it might have a negative effect. That’s why we have taken great care in the development of our aids, which are designed especially for pain treatment.

✅ Avoid taking painkillers wherever possible. Our exercises use your pain as a starting reference point for daily comparisons. So you should not suppress it artificially, but use it as an orientation to guide your exercise and stretch intensity. Pain relievers would distort your progress and give you a false impression of your pain.

✅ Be patient — even though rapid results are not uncommon. It may take some time for your brain to learn new exercise programs for your metabolism to normalize and for the tension created by the pull of opposing muscles to decrease.

✅ There is no need to panic if your pain actually increases when you start to exercise. An initial worsening of your pain can be due to your body’s natural reaction. When your entire body statics change through regular training, your musculoskeletal system will adapt gradually. If you feel worse instead of better after your exercises, this is a signal from your body signal that you may be overdoing things. So just take a break for a day or two and/or reduce the intensity a little during your next training session. You can then ramp things up again in smaller steps, and thus gently lead your body back up to the correct eight or nine on your pain scale.

Get More Exercises to Relieve Atlas Misalignment Pain

Download our free PDF GUIDE and start relieving your neck & shoulder pain now.

The Liebscher & Bracht Atlas Correction Guide
All gain. No pain.

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