Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Big bend for blood pressure?

Heart Beat

Big bend for blood pressure?

Subtle, precise nudges of a misaligned atlas can dramatically lower blood pressure. We are not talking about rearranging reference books, but about lining up the spinal column's topmost vertebra.

The C-1 vertebra is a doughnut-shaped bone at the top of the spine. It is sometimes called the atlas vertebra because it supports the head, much as the titan Atlas held up the sky in Greek mythology. Unlike the 25 vertebrae below it, which maintain their positions by nestling one into the other, the atlas is held in place mostly by muscles and ligaments. A link between a misaligned atlas and high blood pressure has been known since the 1960s. Now, a Chicago-area team has tested whether realigning a skewed atlas could improve blood pressure. It was headed by Dr. George Bakris, an eminent hypertension expert at the University of Chicago who helped write the national guidelines for blood pressure treatment.

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