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What Is Upper Cervical Specific Chiropractic? With Dr. Travis Zigler

3 years ago

Contrary to popular belief, chiropractic does not necessarily involve extreme adjustment such as twisting, stretching, and cracking. There is a practice called the Blair chiropractic technique that utilizes light adjustments to the upper cervical area. In this episode, we turn the spotlight on host Dr. Kevin Pecca as interviewed by The Dry Eye Doctor, Dr. Travis Zigler. Dr. Pecca shares his own story of struggling through injury for years and going through multiple specialists before stumbling upon upper cervical chiropractic. Differentiating upper cervical chiropractic from standard neck and spine adjustments, he emphasizes the importance of taking the necessary tests before any adjustments are made.


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What Is Upper Cervical Specific Chiropractic? With Dr. Travis Zigler

We are going to do something a little different. I had a really great interview with Dr. Travis Zigler. He wanted to know more about what upper cervical chiropractic is because as you know, most people have never heard of it and most people don’t know it’s a specialty within the chiropractic field. I’m going to be explaining what upper cervical chiropractic is, how it saved my life, and how most every person in the world could benefit from an upper cervical chiropractic adjustment. Please welcome Dr. Travis Zigler again, but we’re going to flip the script a little bit and he will be interviewing me. I hope you enjoy this episode.


Dr. Pecca, welcome to the show.

Dr. Travis, thank you for having me on. It’s an honor to be on your show, share my story and the message of upper cervical chiropractic.

We’ve talked in the past and I can’t wait to get into your story and what upper cervical chiropractic is because it was something that was brand new to me. I’ve been through a lot of chiropractic care. Before we jump into that, tell a little bit about yourself, who you are, where you’re from, and then what you do for a living.

My name is Dr. Kevin Pecca. I am a Blair upper cervical chiropractor in West Orange, New Jersey. I practice the upper cervical technique and about only 5% of practicing chiropractors practice this technique, so it’s a specialty within the chiropractic field.

Let’s jump into that a little bit more and talk about what upper cervical chiropractic is.

Upper cervical chiropractic is a specialty within the field that specializes in the upper neck right around the brainstem where every function in your body takes place. There are about seven upper cervical techniques and most of them focus on C1 and C2, the atlas and the axis, which directly house the brainstem. There’s no disk space in that area like there isn’t the rest of the spine. It’s a vulnerable area with the most neurological significance. Over the course of our lifetime, it’s easy for that position to slip and lock out of place through any minor or major car accident, sports injury, falling off the monkey bars when you’re little, and getting pulled out of the birth canal too hard. When that happens, those vertebrae are locked out of place and it cuts off the nerve flow and blood flow to the rest of the body. The brain can’t communicate with the spinal cord and heal itself, causing a plethora of symptoms going on in the body.

Is it safe to say the upper cervical chiropractic is focused on the entire spine health but you’re mostly focusing on that C1 and C2, the atlas and the axis?

Some upper cervical doctors will only adjust that. Every chiropractor can say they can do an upper cervical adjustment but the true upper cervical adjustment is completely different than standard chiropractic adjustments. There’s no twisting, cracking or pulling on the neck. It’s light, precise, and it’s measured by your joint angles in your neck. There’s no guesswork. It’s a little light tap and it puts everything back into place down to the exact millimeter because we take precise three-dimensional X-rays. We see how those bones sit in that neck because it is a serious area. You need to know exactly what you’re adjusting and how to adjust it. When I hear other chiropractors aren’t even taking X-rays, that’s shocking to me because sometimes, there are asymmetries in the spine. One side can feel a little bit more off or out of place than the left one. That’s just the patient’s bone structure and it’s actually in place.

Sometimes, the mastoid process covers C1 in about 20% of people. Some chiropractors think they’re adjusting the atlas. When that bone is covered, they’re adjusting C2. I’ve seen a couple of images on my X-rays where there’s occipitalization between the occiput and atlas where they’re fused together. There’s no way you want to go up there and adjust that area. The upper cervical chiropractor is only as good as imaging so that plays a huge role in our practice. One more thing, it’s crucial in upper cervical chiropractic. What makes us different from other standard chiropractic is we say holding is healing. This is the most amazing part of the technique. I was basing my life around going to see doctors because I had a bunch of ice hockey concussions and for four years, I had brain fog, blurred vision, dizziness, anxiety, and depression. I couldn’t function as a person anymore. I was on disability and I never thought I was going to live a normal life ever again because that’s what the Western medical profession was telling me. They told me I had a brain injury and I was never going to live a normal life again.

My favorite part about the Blair Upper Cervical method is, holding is healing. What exactly does that mean? It means that these adjustments can stay in place weeks to months to years. When the adjustment does stay in place, it allows the nerve flow to operate at its optimal potential. There’s no interference, so the body has the capacity to heal itself. If you’re going to a chiropractor and you’re getting the same adjustment 3 to 4 times a week, there’s not a lot of holding taking place and your body is not doing a lot of healing. I have people that sometimes, I only get one shot with them. They fly from different countries or different states and I’m only able to see them once or twice. You put everything back into alignment where it needs to be, the muscles or ligaments. Keep it there because it’s so specific and they can go home to wherever they’re from. The adjustment will continue to work and heal because there’s no more interference, everything’s in place, and they continue to heal.

The whole concept of it is amazing and remarkable. I’ve never heard of anything like this until I talked to you. Are there studies that are showing that upper cervical chiropractic works?

Absolutely. There are a ton of studies. I had a comment on my YouTube video one time, “Are there any relevant studies showing that upper cervical care works?” I posted about 3 or 4 good studies.

Everybody always talks about chiropractic and how it can be dangerous. By the way that this sounds, it seems like it’s safer because you’re not doing as drastic or dramatic adjustments. Let’s talk about the safety profile of it and talk about if this is dangerous.

I will completely agree with that first statement. I won’t let 95% of the chiropractors touch my neck. I don’t like any twisting, cracking or pulling on my neck. I was in chiropractic school and I had that done to me. The whole right side of my neck swelled up and my symptoms, my blurred vision, and everything got worse. I was like, “I never want that done to me ever again. How am I going to become a chiropractor? I don’t want that done to me.” It was an unfortunate experience that happened to me but in the long run, it became beneficial. When I was going through my healing process and I was seeing all the Western medicine doctors, they told me, “Whatever you do, don’t see a chiropractor.” I don’t blame them for that statement because there are people that aren’t taking X-rays. They’re just taking people’s necks, twist and crack. They’re not visualizing what they’re moving in the neck and that can be dangerous. I would never want that done to me.

There’s no guesswork in the upper cervical world. We are visualizing your actual neck in a 3D image. We know how that bone has moved out of place and we know exactly the joint angle to slip it right back in. Our goal is to give you one neck adjustment. When my patients come in and I say everything is in place you’re holding, they’re excited because they know that the nerve flow is there and their body is healing. I might do light muscle work and I might look at the hips and shoulders to see if there’s anything else going on there. What you’ll find is once the upper neck is put back into place, the shoulders and the hips balance out. I had people come into me with severe low back pain even scheduled for surgery. We put the upper neck back in and the low back pain gets better. They don’t need the surgery anymore. Although we are only working on the top two bones, it trickles down the spine and it’s a global effect on the entire body.

It sounds like you might be seeing me soon. Let’s dive into your backstory a little bit more. Let’s talk about why you became an upper cervical chiropractor. We went into it with your hockey concussions but I know there’s probably a lot more to that story.

I grew up playing ice hockey and most contact sports. I loved every aspect of it and concussion issues didn’t start to gain traction probably until the last few years. If you got a nice hockey hit football injury, the thing to do was suck it up, tough it up and get back out there because people didn’t know. It wasn’t that they wanted you to stay injured or anything. We just didn’t know the severity of the concussions and now we’re starting to know. I probably had about three diagnosed major concussions and many minor ones growing up, sledding, ice hockey, and things you don’t even think about falling off. I crushed my neck and fell off the monkey bars one time when I was little. It knocked the wind out of me. It’s things like that that add up over your lifetime.

Most of the time, we find that the injuries in the upper neck have been in the body for about 15 to 20 years and the symptoms don’t show up until years later. It’s difficult for people to connect the dots when their symptoms were coming up. I have a lot of patients that say, “I woke up with severe ear ringing headaches. I didn’t do anything. I don’t know what happened.” You uncover a little bit about their backstory and they’re like, “I had a huge car accident twenty years ago.” These injuries don’t just go away. They stay in the nervous system for all that time until it’s corrected. For me, I had my last ice hockey concussion when I was twenty years old. It was tough for me to connect the dots because I got it in practice on a Wednesday. I collided with one of my friends by the boards and I saw stars for a little bit. I didn’t pass out. I didn’t blackout. Everything got a little fuzzy for probably three seconds and then I shook it off and then went back out there.

We had a tournament over the weekend. There are no real major big hits, nothing out of the ordinary. I got hit a little bit and then I woke up on Monday morning. It was the worst I felt my entire life, blurred vision, headaches, severe knee pain, no energy, lethargic, and short-term memory. I would walk into a room and forget why I walked in in the first place. One of my big symptoms also was hand tremors. I would have to put my hands under the pillows to stop them from shaking at night. At this point, they told me to rest for two weeks. I had a concussion. Everything should dissipate and go back to normal. I waited for two weeks and I began to feel worse. When I went back to my primary care physician, they didn’t have any answers for me. I remember thinking, “I need to see a specialist now because the primary care doctor doesn’t know what’s going on.” We went to see a neurologist and when I got to the neurologist’s office, he was like, “All your neurological exams are coming back fine. You had a concussion. Just rest and don’t do anything.”

It almost felt like he didn’t believe me too. I remember grabbing a flashlight off his desk and I turned it on and put it against the wall. I was twenty years old and I was like, “My hands are visibly shaking. There’s something wrong here. Something’s not right.” They didn’t have any answers for me, so I was disappointed after that visit. I saw a couple more neurologists and these people listened to me. They gave me what they had in their tool belt to fix the problem or mask the symptoms with pills. They gave me seizure medication to help my hands stop shaking. They gave me painkillers to numb the severe pain I had all over my body and they gave me antidepressants because I told them I was depressed. It’s not that I was a depressed person. It was just that all these symptoms were making me feel awful all the time.

I continued to take those for about three months. I remember I had suicidal thoughts, which I never had in my entire life and those got worse. That’s one of the side effects of antidepressants. It could make you feel even worse sometimes. I didn’t even realize that was going on until I mentioned that to somebody. They’re like, “I would probably talk to somebody and maybe stop taking those because they could be making you feel worse and they can be working against you.” I went to a neuropsychologist and they did all these exams on me. I remember five minutes into the testing, the guy stopped me. I’m telling him the same story I’m telling you and he said, “Kevin, what if I told you you’re going to have to live with this for the rest of your life?” I was shocked. This was five minutes into seeing a healthcare professional and he already gave up on me. This was probably the 4th or 5th specialist I’ve seen. I got angry there. I said, “I want a new doctor because you’re already given up on me. I didn’t even finish telling you my story yet.”

I lost all hope after that. After that doctor, it was crushing because I saw 3 or 4 specialists at that time and nobody had any answers for me. They told me to rest and I rested for 3 or 4 months. They gave me the medication and the medication wasn’t working, so I decided to stop all medication. I drifted into a dark place after that. It was rock bottom for me. I was taking two classes in college because I couldn’t handle the workload. If I read a book, the words would get jumbled. I did the best I could to stay in school and keep everything going in my life. I locked myself in my room for the last two years of college and slept all day. I did what I had to do to get by. Every morning, I would wake up around 7:00 because of my knee pain. I still can’t explain that symptom and why it was there but I had severe knee pain that would wake me up every morning. I didn’t go to bed until 2:00 or 3:00 at night because I had a little bit of insomnia. I couldn’t fall asleep with all the symptoms going on. It was a vicious cycle of no sleep.

When I fall asleep, the knee pain would wake me up at 7:00 AM. I remember waking up and turning over. This was not a characteristic of me at all. I am a positive person. People would say, “Pray and think positive.” Every time I go to bed, I’m like, “Please let this go away. Tomorrow is going to be a better day.” Every day for two years was the worst day of my life. I woke up that morning and I was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m physically exhausted.” There are people telling me I have nothing left too. I’m never going to live a normal life again. I felt bad for everybody that was around me. I felt bad for my family and I feel like people had to deal with me. That certainly wasn’t the case but that was the way I was looking at it. All my relationships with my friends suffered because when you’re 19 or 20 years old, everybody wants to go out and have fun and you can’t do that. I felt like there was nothing left to live for anymore. I turned over and I was like, “Today is the day. I can’t live like this anymore.”

I had a mental breakdown. I started crying and then about five minutes later, I shook myself off. I said, “This isn’t the answer. We’ve got to find the root cause of what’s going on.” I went to a catholic university and I scheduled a meeting with a priest because maybe he can give me some Our Father’s, Hail Mary’s or something to snap me out of this or point me in the right direction. I had a meeting with an unorthodox priest, grizzly beard, and had a pack of cigarettes on the desk. It’s not what you expect when you walk in to see a priest. He was the first person that met me on my level, pulled up a chair, let me talk, listened to me, and gave no advice about God or anything. He just listened to me. I’m telling him the same story I’m telling you. I remember him saying, “Kevin, you can do all the hoping, wishing and praying in the world but if you don’t go out and find the root cause of this problem, you’re never going to get better.”

He said something interesting, “Out of all the people that ever walk this planet, there has to be one person that had the same thing that you had. There has to be one person that got better from it.” He’s like, “Go out there, talk to people, find somebody that’s gotten better and stop feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve got to snap out of it as best you can.” That advice shocked me. I was not ready to hear that but it woke me up a little bit. Even though I had upwards of twenty neurological symptoms every day, I was like, “He’s right. Let’s figure out what’s going on here.” After I got out of his office, I called an ex-professional ice hockey player that was dealing with concussions and he had some success. He coached me about 3 or 4 years prior to this. I had his number and he was getting these neck injections in the back of his neck, PRP, Platelet-Rich Plasma or prolotherapy. He said that it got him about 80% to 90% better.

He referred me to the doctor and I got to that doctor’s office that day. He was the first person in two years that told me that he can get my life back and he’s seen it before. He said, “We could definitely get you better.” I’ll never forget looking over at my mom the moment he said that and she started breaking down and crying because these injuries affect the entire family. It’s not just you that is going through that. When I saw my mom breaking down and crying tears of joy, I said, “I’ve got to get better here because this is affecting not only me but my entire family.” I got upwards of ten injections in the neck. The first one was amazing. It lifted the brain fog for the first time in two years. I had clarity again and it lasted about 2 or 3 days but then everything came back after that. I did about 10 or 11 and they were expensive shots and we ran out of money, so we stopped doing that.

He was the first doctor to tell me that posture dictates function. If there’s any interference around the brainstem, that could be the issue. Once that area is clear, your body will start to heal. I remembered that and I remember all these doctors telling me, “Don’t go and see the chiropractor.” What do I have to lose at this point? I went to the chiropractor I grew up seeing when I was a young kid and he never did any twisting, cracking or pulling on the neck. He did a nice, light, and gentle neck adjustment and it wasn’t upper cervical chiropractic, but it was close to it. He got me about 60% to 70% better and I was seeing him about 3 or 4 times a week. The only problem was if I didn’t see him for one week, all my symptoms would come back. I remember thinking to myself, “There’s something going on with chiropractic. It’s making me feel better. I’m not 100% yet, but I can function again.”

My cousin went to chiropractic school out in California, so I decided to enroll in chiropractic school out there. The only problem was I knew the symptoms were going to come back because they always did after 1 or 2 weeks of not being able to see this guy. I moved out to California and sure enough, two months later, all my symptoms started getting bad again. I was thinking, “I’m going to have to drop out of school again. I can’t function.” The school works too. It’s too rigorous. It’s a full-time job going to medical school. I was getting ready to drop out on Thursday and I had one more tutor session with one of my friends who was a couple of terms ahead of me. He said, “What’s wrong with you? You don’t look good.” I said, “I’m going to have to drop out. I have too many concussion issues and headaches, and I can’t concentrate.” He said, “I might know one person that can help you.”

He referred me to this Blair Upper Cervical chiropractor, Dr. Drew Hall, in Los Angeles. It’s crazy how the universe, God or whatever you want to call it, works out. I was telling Dr. Hall my story and at the end of it, he’s smiling a little bit and I’m thinking to myself, “This isn’t a funny story. Why is this guy smiling?” It ended up he had the same exact story as me, to a tee. He was wrestling his friend, his friend picked him up, dropped him on his head on a baseball field and heard a huge crack under his neck. He thought he was paralyzed for five seconds but then he started wiggling his fingers and he got up. He realized he wasn’t paralyzed. About 7 or 8 months later, his body started to shut down on him. The same symptom as me. He said, “Blair Upper Cervical Chiropractic saved my life. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can get you better.” I said, “I’ve heard this before. Show me the money here. Let’s go because I’ve had people tell me that they could get me better before.”

They took the precise X-rays, he laid me down on the table and gave me my first adjustment. Two minutes later, he got me up off the adjusting table. For the first time in four years, my brain fog, blurred vision, anxiety, and depression went away almost immediately, and then I went to the back room to rest. It felt like a surge of life came back into my body that I haven’t felt in such a long time. It felt like I was connected again. I remember walking outside and I had high definition vision because the brain fog wasn’t there anymore. The colors on the trees were brighter and greener. I slept completely through the night for the first time in four years. I remember waking up the next morning and realizing with every fiber of my being that this is what I need to do for the rest of my life.

All of my symptoms didn’t go away that day but it took about 3 to 6 months. Every couple of weeks, things would get better and better until things were completely gone and I got my life back. I remember doing five push-ups one time in the middle of all the mayhem when it was bad and the room started spinning. I had to lay down for about four hours. I never thought I was going to be able to work out again, play hockey, surf, and do all the things I love doing. I do them now and I do them better than ever. It’s a huge blessing in my life. I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to share my experience and do that for a living now because I have many people in my office that have been through the same thing I have and it’s such a gift to help them heal up and give their lives back. That’s the reason why I do it.

That’s an incredible story. Thank you for sharing that. I commend you for putting it all out there too, because there’s a lot to that story and I want to do a couple of takeaways from it. Most of our readers are people that are suffering from dry eyes, blepharitis or any eye condition. A couple of takeaways from Dr. Pecca’s story is that someone out there is going through exactly what you were going through and they’ve healed it. You just have to keep reaching out to people. That’s what we made the group for, to help people mentor other people because they come and they find my wife and I. We help them rethink their dry eye treatment. It takes them down to a completely separate path than what they’re normally going down.

You learn from another neurologist. It led you to this path of going to see a priest who then sent you to this and then you kept going. That’s the key thing. You will find that solution if you keep trying. Upper cervical chiropractic could be the solution you’re looking for that person that’s reading right now. Even with the dry eye, it could be me and it could be somebody else. It could be anybody, so keep looking for that solution because you never know when you’re going to find it. You never know what’s going to work, that’s why we start out with something simple and we get into more complex treatments. Upper cervical chiropractic, although complex, it’s a simple treatment and it makes sense because your brain connects to the rest of your body through those first two vertebrae of your spine. If those aren’t on point and flowing correctly, then it’s going to affect your whole body system. That’s the whole concept behind chiropractic as well.

You’re talking about the origin and I loved your story. Thank you for sharing that. I want to shift it a little bit. I’ve dealt with lower back problems for the last many years. I stopped playing volleyball and had to stop running for about a year. I couldn’t play with my son because it hurts bad. I had traditional chiropractic for about 1.5 years and it took my pain level from an 8 to a 1. I sit at that one and it flares up to about a 5 to 6 when I do things like stand for too long or flex my back too long. If I were to fly out to see you in New Jersey because I’m in Texas, walk me through what that typical appointment would look like and then what happens after the appointment.

Anybody coming from out of state or other countries, we recommend usually staying for one week or about 3 to 4 days. On your first day here, we would take all of the X-rays. We do all the neurological exams and we do a couple of different scanners to measure thermography in the neck to show where there’s excessive heat in the neck. We also do a neurological leg check and we can tell what’s out of place in your neck by looking at your leg length. We would do all the tests and it’s completely necessary because everybody gets a different adjustment in the upper cervical world. It’s not just twisting and popping. It’s specific to your joint anatomy, so we have to do the analysis of what’s going on and uncover how to get you better. Usually, I sit my patients down for twenty minutes. Tell me exactly what you’re going through and don’t leave anything out, car accidents, sports injuries, and what medications are you on. Have you had any minor or major surgeries? Are you taking any medication? I want to know everything that’s been going on with you.

We take our X-rays, and we do our neuro testing and then if it’s a straightforward misalignment, I’ll get people adjusted that day. Sometimes, some people have a lot more going on and I need to spend another 1 to 2 hours with their scan but we can still bring you on that day and get you adjusted. After the first adjustment, you’re not on your back or your stomach for these upper cervical adjustments. You are laying on your side, your head is on a little headpiece and the table clicks up. We do a light little tap on the neck and the table clicks down. After the adjustment, we lay you on your side for five minutes because some people feel a little warmth under their ears and a little tingling down the body. That’s the nerve flow and blood flow coming back. We want to keep everything there. We don’t want to disrupt everything, so we lay you on your side for five minutes.

We bring you into our back resting room into our zero gravity chairs and we arrest you for another 15 to 20 minutes to let everything rebalance. To make sure we absolutely nailed it, we do our neurological leg check again and if I did my job correctly, your leg length will be perfectly balanced and your scan should show a shift in pattern thermographically. We make sure you’re balanced before we send you home and then we would probably see you one more time that week to make sure you are balanced and holding your adjustment. You come back in for your follow-up visit. If your next scan looks clear, your hips are balanced, your leg length is balanced and all of the neurological tests in the neck are coming back negative, there’s no interference. We aren’t going to do any adjustments because everything’s already in place. We go over some do’s and don’ts over the next couple of days and a couple of weeks to help hold that adjustment.

I usually tell people, “No heavy exercising for the first 48 hours. Stay away from overhead activity for 1 or 2 weeks because any pull-downs, pull-ups or shoulder presses,” they pull those traps. They connect right to the neck and that could pull you out of alignment. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen. For the next 1 or 2 weeks, we want you to stay away from overhead lifting and try not to look down at your phone for hours at a time. We want to keep everything nice and neutral. Another question I get a lot is, “How should I sleep at night?” I usually tell people, “If you sleep on your back, you want to have one pillow. You don’t want to have too many pillows pushing your head up because we’re trying to bring everything back and restore that neck curve. Maybe put a little pillow under your legs to get a little knee bend, so there’s not a lot of pressure on your low back. If you sleep on your side, you want to keep the head nice and neutral. One pillow should usually do it.” The worst thing I tell people is sleeping on your stomach with your head turned for six hours because that puts a lot of stress in the neck. I do have people that do it but I advise against it.

Some of my readers are probably asking, “What does this have to do with dry eyes?” It again goes back to your whole body health. What Dr. Pecca is talking about is that he’s making these adjustments to restore blood flow and to restore nerve flow back to your body. When your body is in a better state of homeostasis or better balance, that’s going to decrease your stress levels and the inflammation in your entire body. It’s going to make your body feel better. I always talk about dry eyes and blepharitis as being a symptom of an overall state of inflammation in your body, and that’s the case for 95% of people.

That’s why I wanted to bring Dr. Pecca on because I thought this was fascinating and I wanted to learn more about it myself selfishly. Everything you went over is great and I hope that you, as the reader, found a lot out of this and know that your whole body needs to be in a state of homeostasis in order for everything to be healthy. I want to say one thing. Make sure you subscribe to Dr. Pecca’s YouTube channel. I want people to know how they can get ahold of you or how they can see you for an appointment. Let people know where they can get ahold of you, Dr. Pecca.

You can go to my website at We are on Facebook at Montclair Upper Cervical Chiropractic. I’m on Instagram at @KevinPecca. I have a podcast called Expect Miracles on iTunes and all other podcast playing platforms. I’m on YouTube, Dr. Kevin Pecca. I'm on every social media platform. You can call the office, Montclair Upper Cervical Chiropractic, (973) 744-3456. You can email me at if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

Dr. Pecca, thanks for being on the show.

Thank you for having me. It was an honor to be on.

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