Scoliosis, Hypervigilance and Tilted Eye-Line Chronically having to look over your shoulder in fear twists your spine

One of the signs of scoliosis is a tilted eye-line or strabismus.  Typically one eye will fixate on objects of interest while the other eye turns in, out, down, or up. The medical community is still conflicted about whether a tilted eye-line causes scoliosis or scoliosis causes your eyes to misalign. (Here I am discussing the diagnosis of idiopathic scoliosis only). In an earlier blog, I had elaborated on Wilhelm Reich’s armoring theory on how scoliosis begins in the eyes.

Furthermore, as my scoliosis gets better I am convinced that that’s where the misalignment begins.  I can feel it in my eyes – particularly my right eye and brain are getting re-oriented to my environment. I am no longer defined by the negativity of my past.

However, this recalibrating of my default mode has been very painful both emotionally and physically. I have been plagued with migraine-type headaches; radiating through the right side – top of the forehead, eyes, and at the back of my neck.

Scoliosis, Hypervigilance and Tilted Eye-Line
Our eyes help detect threats, looking over our shoulder is primally encoded in our brain

What has brought about this change in my eyes, well, I am no longer feeling fearful?  I have been able to release the tight grip of hypervigilance.

Looking Over My Shoulder

Like the little girl above I spent my growing up years in a state of hypervigilance. I’ve shared the reasons why I developed scoliosis – being sexually molested, violent abuse, rejection, shame. After my mother died, as a dependant 11-year-old, I had to be on my guard. Always surreptitiously looking over my shoulder.

My eyes had to constantly scan my environment, apprehensive that my father would get mad because I cut the onions the wrong way. Would my grandmother again give me her silent treatment? Oh, God there comes creepy cousin. And Uncle Mean is he going to make fun of my dress? Help Mom, Uncle Lustful is looking at me weirdly and his wife is blaming me for his wantonness.

Hypervigilance can develop not just due to fear of being harmed physically but also due to emotional abuse – shame, guilt, bullying, neglect, feeling unloved, being not wanted. And in a dysfunctional family, there are plenty of situations when our antenna is on high alert.

Eyes Going In Different Directions

Psycho-physiologically, I was fixated at looking over my right shoulder. My right eye trying to decipher what is happening behind my back. Is my father around and is that creepy cousin back or is my grandmother in one of her moods and is it possible that my uncle wants to f**k me.

So much for a little girl coping with the loss of her mother and dealing with the changes in her body.

I had to cope with all this shit while going through the motions of daily life i.e. go to school, study, interact socially as though things were normal. My brain was spilt into Emotional Part (EP), the emotional right hemisphere, and the Apparently Normal Part (ANP), the logical left hemisphere that attends to daily functioning.

Not surprisingly my eyes went off in two different directions. One focussing in the present while the other hypervigilant. The unfortunate part of childhood trauma is that it happens during our developmental stage so even though the threat may have passed our body gets stuck or armored in that state of hypervigilance. Subsequently, our body grows to incorporate this hypervigilant stance.

How Hypervigilance Causes Scoliosis

Eyes  – Our Surveillance System

eyes brain spine

Our eyes play a major role in accessing safety or danger in any situation.

They represent a complex part of our central nervous system, connected directly to the brain. Via inputs to the visual cortex, the brain interprets and determines how the body should respond. The brain then sends messages down the spinal cord to instruct the body how to react to what the eyes see. In short, our eyes control our mental and physical balance and also our posture.

The Right Amygdala -Threat Detection System

Studies have shown that in humans the threat detection system is located in the subcortical areas of the right brain. Especially in the right amygdala, which is specialized for detecting ‘unseen fear.

So it makes sense to be looking over our right shoulder to scan for danger. Fortuitously, only  50% of the neurons of the visual system cross over to the other side at the optic chiasm. Thus, in all probability information of danger is taken in by our right eye to be quickly processed by our right brain. However, this could lead to us getting stuck in a right-brain processing loop without the inputs of the logical left-brain.

How Your Neck Twists

Now, what would happen if you were chronically in a state of hypervigilance? Your head will tilt, your neck would twist,  one-shoulder goes higher and muscles of the sternocleidomastoid SCM (connect the neck to the collar bone) would get tightened. This in turn would lead to a misaligned jawbone.

Additionally, this continuous head tilt causes adaptations in ancillary muscles and bones and subsequently the spine

The Critical Craniocervical Junction

Now the eyes are connected to the sub occipitals. They are a group of four muscles situated underneath the occipital bone. where the base of your skull meets your neck also known as the craniocervical junction (CCJ). The CCJ is made up of the occiput, base of the skull; the atlas, the first cervical vertebrae C1; and the axis, the second cervical vertebrae C2. These bones are critical in connecting the head to the body.

The occipital muscles are mainly responsible for posture and movements between your skull and top vertebrae.

When we are in a state of hypervigilance our occipital muscles twist and tighten which affects the alignment of the atlas and the axis. Furthermore, the head because it is looking over the right shoulder twists at the atlas which in turn causes the cervical spine to curve towards the left. This abnormal posturing of the head and neck gives rise to torticollis (the neck muscles contract, causing the head to twist to one side) and probably the beginning of scoliosis.

Moreover, this could be the cause of many right-sided migraines people with scoliosis suffer.

The Complex Connection Between The Head, Neck, and Spine

Now craniocervical junction (CCJ), houses the transition from the brain stem to the spinal cord. This area is also crucial for the proper flow of blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that supply the brain with nutrients and remove waste.

Let’s not forget the vagus nerve which enters the brain at the CCJ. The vagus is critical for numerous body functions, particularly our nervous system’s parasympathetic branch: the rest-and-digest. This twisting in the neck, without a doubt, compresses the vagus nerve and compromises its function. This means our flight-fight stress response system cannot effectively shut off. The vagal braking system cannot work smoothly if the vagus nerve is pinched or twisted due to dysfunction in our musculoskeletal system.

It does not take much imagination to see how this critical part of our body can have far-reaching consequences. Not just on our health but also on our skeletal development.

Mind-Body Are Interconnected

Now your body is a finely tuned piece of art. A misalignment towards the left in the cervical spine gives rise to a compensatory curve in the right thoracic spine which in turn leads to another compensatory curve in the left lumbar spine. (Most scoliosis curves are right thoracic and left lumbar). So basically your spine curves in 3 directions. It’s not just a single S-curve, it a double S-curve.

Also remember, emotions affect our fascia and muscles which in turn causes minor or major shifts in our skeletal bones.

Unfortunately, most modern treatments focus on correcting the spine from the thoracic which kind of further messes up your muscular-skeletal balance. One of my blog readers mentioned how the bracing did help partially straighten her spine but her upper part of her body felt weak and disjointed.

How could the spine not twist, if one grows up being hypervigilant, constantly looking over one’s shoulder  It would seem the natural progression of our body adjusting to keep us safe.

Concluding Remarks

The above explanation stems from my own experiences with the development and healing of scoliosis. The conclusions are also based solely on my own research.

I am not a neuroscientist nor do I have any medical training. However, ever since I was given the diagnosis of ‘idiopathic scoliosis’ I was faced with 3 choices 1) Kill myself and get it over with 2) accept my fate and wait for my death 3) Do my best to find a cure. And the last 35 years I have been doing just that – trying to heal my scoliosis.

And I am happy and proud to confess that my spine has gotten straighter, especially since the last 3 years

What is the one factor that has been instrumental in my healing? I am no longer in a state of hypervigilance. At last, I am feeling safe.  As my emotions release my muscles slowly loosen – just like a rubber band that was tightly wound. But most importantly as my eyes relax and become aligned they pull my spine upright like a pulley.

Image Source: Pixabay

ReferencesGaze Behavior in Social Fear Conditioning: An Eye-Tracking Study in Virtual Reality

The influence of emotional stimuli on the oculomotor system: A review of the literature

Post-traumatic stress disorder and vision

The Eyes and Proprioception

Helpful Reading:

Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body  – David Emerson, Elizabeth Hopper

The Psychology of the Body Elliot Greene, Barbara Goodrich-Dunn

Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve: Self-Help Exercises Stanley Rosenberg

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