This is the third post in a four-part series from the article “Children’s Immune System” by Keith Wassung.  The series focuses on the relationship between a child’s immune system and their spinal health.  Last week’s selection highlighted the link between the immune system and the nervous system. This week’s selection details the causes of vertebral subluxations in newborns and infants. 


Part 3: Vertebral Subluxations in Newborns and Infants


Baby crawlingThe nervous system is protected by the spine, consisting of 24 moveable vertebrae. When the spine is in its proper position, it protects the nerve pathways.

But when vertebrae become misaligned, interference to the nerve impulses occurs — which reduces the overall functioning of the nervous system and of the particular organ to which it is assigned. These spinal misalignments are known as “vertebral subluxations.”


Image of infant immediately post-birth


The birth process, even under normal conditions, is frequently the first cause of spinal stress. After the head of the child appears, the physician grabs the baby’s head and twists it around in a figure eight motion, lifting it up to receive the lower shoulder and then down to receive the upper shoulder. This creates significant stress on the spine of the baby.




“Spinal cord and brain stem traumas often occur during the process of birth but frequently escape diagnosis. Infants often experience lasting neurological defects. Spinal trauma at birth is essentially attributed to longitudinal traction, especially when this force is combined with flexion and torsion of the spinal axis during delivery.”1



Crying infant receiving APGAR test“It might seem that birth by C-section would be the easiest and least traumatic way to be born since the infant doesn’t have to hazard the rigors of a long labor or a constricting birth canal. Unfortunately, we have found that trauma to the newborn delivered section is different but no less traumatic than the trauma that occurs in a vaginal delivery.”2



Most investigators in the past, in pursuing the problem of birth injury of the central nervous system, have been preoccupied with pathological changes in the forebrain. It is evident, however, that for the newborn, elementary biological activity is not dependent on the presence and function of the cerebrum. Survival of the newborn is governed mainly by the integrity and function of the vital centers in the brain stem. Yet, paradoxically, the importance of injury at birth to the brain stem and spinal cord are matters which have generally escaped lasting attention. Regrettably, in many institutions in which autopsies of newborns are performed, examination of the spinal structures is not carried out routinely; spinal injuries are thus often overlooked.3



Diagram of child born breachBirth trauma to the cervical spine and cranium can result in disorders such as headaches, vestibular problems,auditory troubles, visual disturbances, pharyngolaryngela disorders, vasomotor and secretion dysfunction and psychic disturbances. Care to realign the neck achieves excellent results with many of these dysfunctions. 4

Orthopedic Medicine


In a research article in Developmental Childhood Neurology, Dr. Byers stated that the recognized causative factors to injury during the birth process are traction, rotational stresses, and hyperextension of the fetal head. Recognition of these factors is the basis for prevention of this terrible accident.5


"Many birth injuries do not result in infant death, but may still significantly affect the neurodevelopmental outcome" Clinics in Perinatology

“Life for the newborn depends upon the preservation and healthy functioning of the brain stem and spinal cord at the level of the upper neck.”23

Abraham Towbin M.D.Harvard Medical School




Father throwing child into the airDuring the first two years of life, an infant often falls while learning to walk or can fall while tumbling off a bed or other piece of furniture.

Even the seemingly innocent act of playfully tossing babies up in the air and catching them often results in a whiplash”-like trauma to the spine.

Automobile accidents often involve the entire family, although infants often go unchecked because they have no obvious damage or symptoms.



Because of the structure of the infant’s spine, spinal stretching from trauma is more likely to result in spinal cord trauma with nerve interference than it is in damage to the vertebral segments and soft tissue. This is frequently the cause of the first vertebral subluxation in the child’s life.



  1. Towbin, A. (1968). “Spinal Cord and Brain Stem Injury in Newborn Infants.” Developmental Child Neurology II
  2. .Janov, A. (1983). Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience. Coward-McCann, Inc., p. 14.
  3. Towbin, A. (1968). “Spinal Cord and Brain Stem Injury in Newborn Infants.” Developmental Child Neurology II
  4. Maigne, R. Orthopedia Medicine “A new approach to vertebral manipulation” 1972
  5. Byers R.K. 1975. Spinal Cord Injuries During Birth. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 17(1):103-110.
  6. Clinics in Perintology Faix R.G. and S.M. Donn. 1983. Immed10(2):487-505.iate management of the traumatized infant.
  7. Towbin, A. (1968). “Spinal Cord and Brain Stem Injury in Newborn Infants.” Developmental Child Neurology II,