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Does Head Trauma Contribute to the Onset of Multiple Sclerosis?

By Erin L. Elster, D.C.

Can injuries to the head, neck, or spine cause the onset of Multiple Sclerosis (MS)? This is a debate that has waged in the field of medicine for years. The suspicion has lingered and doesn’t seem to be fading at all with time. In fact, more health care practitioners are documenting cases of MS diagnosed subsequent to spinal trauma; too many to be caused by chance.

Multiple Sclerosis has a variety of symptoms that range in severity. These symptoms often begin over a period of days; they escalate, peak, and subside. After a certain period of time, such as a few weeks or months, the pattern reemerges and begins again. Symptoms include sensory issues, such as a loss of feeling (numbness) or tingling, visual impairments such as blurry or double vision, fatigue, pain, and problems with motor skills.  Impairments worsen over time as the disease progresses.

The cause of Multiple Sclerosis has been questioned in the medical community for decades. Countless studies, clinical deliberations, and robust debates have made little progress in discovering the source of the illness. Numerous theories have been proposed including that MS is a form of an autoimmune response, that a viral illness is involved, that there is a genetic link, or that environmental toxins are associated. Some professionals believe it is a combination of these.

There is also the widely debated theory of injury to the head, neck, and spine. Does trauma cause MS? While the link between MS and brain, neck, or spinal cord injuries has never been formally proven, many believe this to be factual. Some professionals suggest that the precise impact to the central nervous system, through whiplash, concussion, or similar trauma, will either cause MS to develop or once subtle symptoms to worsen. Some researchers believe that trauma to the central nervous system may alter the blood-brain-barrier, which many consider to be a critical step in the formation of MS lesions (plaques). Other researchers have recognized through MRI the relationship of cervical (neck) spinal cord injury and the formation of MS plaques.

More and more health care practitioners are documenting cases of MS diagnosis after trauma. Practitioners state that after treating individuals for neck or head trauma, perhaps after auto or sports accidents, some are diagnosed with MS soon after. In addition, medical professionals are noting that patients already diagnosed with MS have exacerbations following a new traumatic event.  There are some practitioners who believe that the problem is isolated in the neck; that the cervical vertebrae become dislodged or misaligned by trauma, which can interfere with the central nervous system. There are also those who state that correcting neck injuries may reverse the advancement of the disease. 

More research is needed to determine the causal factors for Multiple Sclerosis.  Until then, there are a variety of treatments and support systems available for patients that are only a search engine away. If you have questions or concerns about this illness, please discuss them with your health care professional.

Dr. Erin Elster is an Upper Cervical Chiropractor.  For more information on Upper Cervical Chiropractic care, please contact Dr. Elster in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii at 808-866-6551 or www.erinelster.com.