Tail wagging the head, or head wagging the tail?


There is a distinct relationship between what happens in the low back and pelvis and what happens in the neck and head. So, if you can’t solve your low back, pelvis or hip pain, try getting your neck and cranium checked.

Last post on the topic of our structure and pain for a while, I promise. I just want to conclude this three-part series about the importance of our structure to our function, by examining how what is happening in the lower body will affect the neck and head, and vice versa, and explaining why it may be important to treat both ends in order to completely resolve a problem.

For survival reasons, our body wants to do everything it can to keep us balanced over our feet and our eyes level to the horizon. This is called the "righting reflex", and as long as our body can do what it needs to do maintain our balance and keep the head and eyes level, the better off we will be. Indulge me and do this little experiment with me, so I can illustrate what I am talking about. Stand up, and throw your hip out to one side. Notice that your ribcage will tilt back the other way, and your neck will tilt to the same side your hip is, to help you keep your weight over your feet and to keep your head on straight. The point of this little exercise is to illustrate the fact that our ribs, neck and head will change position depending upon the position of the pelvis. There is a predictable relationship between what the pelvis is doing and what the cranium (head) is doing, as well as what the lower back is doing and what the neck is doing.

The relationship between each of the spinal vertebrae, as well as the pelvis and cranial bones has been worked out, and is called the Lovett Reactor. I was first exposed to it in my studies at the CHEK Institute, and then again through Neurosomatic Educators, and I believe it is a part of chiropractic and possibly osteopathic teaching as well. For those not in the medical or manual therapy business, skip the next paragraph to the one below, and I will try and explain the significance of this in a more simple manner.

For those in the health biz who are unfamiliar with the Lovett Reactor, in a nutshell, C1 should move in a similar direction to L5, C2 to L4, C3 to L3, whereas C4 will move in the opposite direction to L2, C5 opposite to L1, and so on all the way to T5 which has an opposite movement to T6. The pelvis relates to the cranium as follows: sacrum moves in the opposite direction to the occiput, the ilium moves in opposite direction to the temporal bone on the same side, and the coccyx moves in the opposite direction to the sphenoid bone in the cranium. I would have put in a diagram to explain the relationships, but I can find nothing on the net – sorry. An example of how this works would be an in-flared right ilium should mean that the temporal bone on the right would compensate by out-flaring, in order to assure that the person is meeting the demands of the righting reflex. If this is not happening, the person is NOT meeting the demands of the righting reflex. The more dimensions (flexion, extension, shear, rotation, tilt) in which the person is not meeting the demands of the righting reflex, the more pain and dysfunction the person will suffer from.

According to the Lovett Reactor, each vertebrae in the spine is partnered with another vertebrae. Because of the paired Lovett Reactor relationships, if there is a problem, say, with pain in the low back due to a rotated L4 segment, it is worth correcting the corresponding rotation in C2 in the neck, as the lower problem may not resolve completely until the upper one is also addressed. If the vertebrae are not functioning properly in this relationship, and the head is sitting tilted rather than level on the neck as a result, the eye muscles are put under enormous strain, as they must then try and level the eyes within the
eye sockets so the person can see straight. As you can imagine, this can be the cause of a lot of headaches, not to mention vision problems! The bones of the pelvis have a partner relationship with certain bones in the skull too, and because of this, the position of the pelvis can have a big impact on the position of the bones in the skull, potentially impacting brain function as we discussed last week, and it can go the other way, where the position of the bones in the skull will impact the position of the bones in the pelvis.

I personally find the idea of mobilizing the cranium in order to improve the position the pelvis rather fascinating. And since so many back problems are related to a poor position of the pelvis, it seems prudent to not only correct pelvic position through massage, stretching and corrective exercise, but to also look at the position of the temporal bones and occiput, and mobilize as necessary.

I think that many of us have fallen hard on our tailbones at one time or another in our lives, and the consequences might potentially be quite serious. Due to the Lovett Reactor relationship, if the tailbone (coccyx) is severely bent under because of such an injury, the result may well be that the sphenoid bone in the head is stuck in extension (tilted back), which could impact the other cranial and facial bones resulting in any number of problems and pain in the head. Very few health practitioners would think of looking at the position of the coccyx as part of the solution for sinus, vision, headaches, and nerve problems in the head, I would bet!

My point in all this is that when trying to address pain and dysfunction I believe it is vital to look at the body in its entirety, as the part that hurts is frequently the victim of a cause that is far away. It is possible that a cause of a rotator cuff problem in a baseball pitcher may be a big toe that won't bend, resulting in an inability to rotate adequately at the hips and ribs, forcing too much of the movement to come from the shoulder. Fix the toe, fix the shoulder. Looking at the shoulder in isolation would be futile. Whether the cranium needs to be looked at to help a hip problem, or the top vertebrae needs to be mobilized to address a digestive problem, we need to consider the big picture. Understanding the relationships between the various parts of our structure and how they work together can go a long way to finding solutions to stubborn pain and dysfunction.

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Related tips
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“It’s all in your head – I mean neck!”
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Shoulder-blade position and neck, arm and upper back pain

Clark, Randall & Jones, Tracy Neuro ALP 1 Manual Neurosomatic Educators Inc. 2007.

Rothbart, Brian Vertical Facial Dimensions Linked to Abnormal Foot Motion Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association Volume 98 Number 3 189-196 2008.

Smith, Gerald H. CRANIODONTICS New technology of the twenty-first Century International Center for Nutritional Research

Blum CL Biodynamics of the cranium: a survey. Cranio. 1985 Mar-May;3(2):164-71.

Gautam P et al. Stress and displacement patterns in the craniofacial skeleton with rapid maxillary expansion: a finite element method study. Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop. 2007 Jul;132(1):5.e1-11.

Jafari A et al. Study of stress distribution and displacement of various craniofacial structures following application of transverse orthopedic forces–a three-dimensional FEM study. Angle Orthod. 2003 Feb;73(1):12-20.

Copyright 2008 Vreni Gurd

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1 Comment

  1. Professor/Dr Brian A Rothbart said,

    July 3, 2010 @ 11:58 am

    My clinical and research experience in the reciprocity between the innominates and temporal bones is:

    In an Ascending postural distortional pattern: Anterior rotation of the innominate will force the ipsilateral (same side) temporal bone to rotate anteriorly (outflair).

    Prof Rothbart

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