Craniocervical Junction & Concussion: The Symptoms


So now you know the basics about the Craniocervical Junction, but how can an injury to the neck affect you? How do you know that you've sustained an injury in the first place?

Well first off, a neck injury can create many of the head and neck symptoms that you might experience with concussion which is why many concussion patients fail to even discover the injury! How is this possible? The craniocervical junction affects 2 major influences on brain physiology: fluid flow and sensory feedback.

Fluid Flow

Fluid flow is crucial to the function of the brain. Without a consistent flow of fluid throughout the body and brain, neuroinflammation can occur. Neuroinflammation, the inflammation of nervous tissue, plays a major role in concussion symptoms, but what exactly causes neuroinflammation in the first place? Think of the mechanics of the brain like a plumbing system. There is an internal plumbing system where cerebrospinal fluid, a clear fluid that bathes that brain and spinal cord, passes through the foramen magnum. And then there is an external plumbing system of arteries and veins that brings blow flow in and out of the brain. An injury to the upper 1/3 of the neck acts as a clog or blockage in the plumbing system, causing disruption and turbulence within the two systems.

You can also think of these systems like a river. If you've ever been white water rafting, white water kayaking or just spent a day at the river, you know that there are areas of calm - where the water is clear and smooth - but then there are areas where the river takes a turn. All of the sudden, the rushing water grows louder and crashes against the surrounding rocks. You can see white froth and the turbulence of the river is evident. When there is misalignment in the upper bones of your neck, this is the kind of turbulence is present in the veins draining the blood and spinal fluid.

Sensory Feedback

As much as you now might understand your internal system, how can you physically tell if something might be wrong? Post-Traumatic Headache is the #1 symptom of Post-Concussion Syndrome. Dizziness and Neck pain are other symptoms that tend to linger in PCS as well. As we discussed in the basics, the muscles supporting the craniocervical junction are easily injured, and can affect the sensory feedback of the brain, causing similar symptoms. 

The top 1/3 of the neck is essentially a relay station that goes from the brain to the rest of the body. If it's not working correctly, the brain won't communicate or emit feedback correctly. This dysfunction can lead to chronic neck pain, headache, and dizziness. We can try to retrain the brain but the best option would be to first address the underlying issue for the brain's slow down. Sequencing is important... socks before shoes is typically the way to go. In this case, we want to clear the relay station first and then let the brain try to function on its own. We can support the brain function with neurofeedback and stem cell therapies, but before even giving those a shot, we need to make sure the relay station is functioning well.

At the end of the day, there is a lot of overlap in concussion and craniocervical junction injury symptoms. It might be hard to determine exactly what's wrong, or see the full picture. But if you don't address both issues, you will never regain peak health. The likelihood of sustaining and neck injury during concussion is very high, so make sure you talk to your doctor and figure out the best recovery options for you!