Atlas Correction vs. Traditional Manipulation

Atlas Correction vs. Traditional Manipulation

This is a post that may catch some flack, so I want to preface it first with my intentions.

1. This is a question that my patients are frequently asked when they want to refer a family or friend, so first and foremost this is a guide for them.

2. I’m openly declaring my biases.  I practice using Atlas Corrections as my primary intervention so it’s inescapable that I have some favoritism. However, I’m making a concerted effort to keep this strictly factual.

3. I’m not making any claims of superiority or inferiority. Different interventions for different goals, and each intervention will appeal to different people.

Now that that’s been established, let’s talk about these distinct procedures.

Traditional Manipulation

Spinal ManipulationWhat people have come to associate with spinal manipulation is known in the academic and professional world as a “high-velocity, low amplitude” spinal manipulation. Spinal manipulation can be performed on any of the spinal joints from the head all the way down to the pelvis and sacrum. It is what people associate with the “twisting, cracking, and popping” form of chiropractic.

Spinal manipulation has been used as a healing art that dates back thousands of years. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was even said to have used manipulation to treat his patients. It also has strong roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine and other eastern practices where they call it “bone setting”.

A lot has changed in thousands of years. What was once a fringe therapy is now practiced by thousands of practitioners, which include chiropractors, physical therapists, and osteopathic physicians.

These manipulations are used to increase joint range of motion, reduce pain input into the brain, decrease spasm, and alter the way the brain uses sensory information. It’s not as important to see the alignment and structural position of the joint as it is to know that the joint is moving.

Spinal manipulation has had a long history, but we are now starting to understand the wide ranging benefits on the neuromusculoskeletal system. We also know that despite some negative press, it has an unbelieveably strong record of safety in the right hands. Most over the counter medications would be envious of the safety track record of spinal manipulation.

Atlas Corrections

Atlas Corrections are an intervention used by chiropractors that focus on the the alignment of the head and neck. These chiropractors will usually classify themselves as an Upper Cervical Chiropractor.

What makes this type of procedure unique is that it focuses exclusively on the top portion of the spine. What also makes it unique is the fact that this procedure is usually very gentle and precise in nature, as there is almost no discernible pressure, and none of the “cracking” associated with a traditional manipulation.

As a matter of fact, when most people get an atlas correction done, they usually don’t even realize that something has happened. It’s actually rather anti-climatic.

The purpose of Atlas Corrections are also different in the fact that it is focused on restoring normal positioning or Normal Structure of the head and neck. By restoring normal positioning and mechanics of the head and neck, there results a normalization of perfusion (blood flow) into the head/neck, improvement in the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, and a reduction in tensile forces on the brain stem/spinal cord.

Atlas Corrections

Because of the way the the head and neck affect the over all health of the body, the direction of the force, and alignment of the structure of the spine is VERY important when using Atlas Corrections. Doctors that use Atlas Corrections as their primary intervention usually see a myriad of complex neurological cases in addition to some of the more common chiropractic cases (neck pain, back pain, sciatica, etc). Some of these Secondary Conditions include:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Post-Concussion Syndrome
  • Temporomandibular Dysfunction
  • Migraine Headache
  • Movement Disorders
  • Vertigo
  • Tinnitis

Although many people have reservations about having their head and neck examined, because of the very precise and gentle nature of Atlas Corrections, there have been little to no adverse events reported with hand or instrument assisted corrections through some of the most common techniques (NUCCA, Orthospinology, Toggle Recoil, Atlas Orthogonal, etc).

So How Do I Know If I Need It?

Now this is a question that I can’t really answer for you. Traditional manipulative therapies and chiropractors that use Atlas Corrections do have some overlap as far as the type of patients they see.

Is one better than the other?

No idea. It’s never been documented or proven in the form of a clinical trial. That means it’s up to you to decide what form of care you want for your body. In competent hands, both may be powerful tools to help you achieve your health goals.

There are certainly times that I’ve sent people out for traditional spinal manipulations, and there have been times where traditional chiros or PT’s have referred to me. This is not a contest on who is better, it’s about appropriately addressing the needs of the patient.

I hope this helps clear up the questions, and hopefully the internet trolls won’t fire back too badly. If you have any questions or comments, make sure to find me on Twitter at @drjonathanchung.


Did you like this article? Feel free to share it with the people you care about and see if a Complimentary Consultation is the next step to regain their health.

Dr. Chung is a practicing Structural Chiropractor in the West Palm Beach area. He has been published in peer reviewed scientific journals and is a sought after speaker in health and wellness. Follow his blog at or find him on twitter at @drjonathanchung

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