What do you have to see before you know what to do? The Significance of Pottenger’s Saucer


Structure (anatomy) and function (physiology) cannot be separated. A deviation from normal in one has consequences in the other. Beginning with my February 2010 column, I have been describing a five-minute Source of Stress examination that can be done in your office any time you need to determine when a visceral dysfunction may be responsible for perpetuating structural misalignments and subluxations. Neither expensive equipment nor changes in your office procedure are required. Regardless of how busy you may be, there are always times when a patient is not responding as they or you would like. It simply makes sense to run a “special” exam to reassure the patient and yourself that you are on the right track.

In my last article, in issue #6, I discussed a one-minute procedure that I refer to as the Triangle test which is named after the patient’s position – sitting on the examining table with legs extended and bending forward at the waist and the head and neck in flexion. I used this one-minute exam in a busy schedule to screen for neurological causes of a patient’s symptoms such as sciatic neuritis and dural involvements. I ended the column with a brief discussion of Pottenger’s Saucer, loss of normal thoracic kyphosis.
I consider this observation one of the most important a chiropractor can identify when discerning the cause of many visceral problems including headache and digestive symptoms. One minute well-spent is always worth the effort when you consider that the vast majority of symptomatic patients do not have positive clinical test results. How then are you to identify the true cause of common symptoms such as the following? 


Stiff, sore joints      Constipation or diarrhea

Headaches             Restlessness or irritability
Heartburn              Anxiety
Indigestion            Depression
Gas and bloating    Insomnia

Pottenger’s Saucer
In response to many questions concerning Pottenger’s Saucer,  I decided to give a more detailed description of this important finding. The presence of a “saucer in the mid-thoracic spine” was first described by Francis Pottenger, MD. The phenomenon has been referred to by chiropractors as the anterior dorsal syndrome. Interestingly this is not a chronic osseous problem. It is a transitory problem, caused by muscle contractions, and has a viscero-somatic origin. In his Belgian Chiropractic research notes, Henri Gillet describes the occurrence of a dorsal saucer after the consumption of three to five cups of coffee per day. Imagine having a normal dorsal kyphosis when you wake up and producing a “saucer” near the apex of the kyphosis by mid-morning. My clinical experience has taught me that patients presenting with Pottenger’s saucer have an inadequate supply of glucose to meet the present stress in their lives. In other words, hypoglycemia which has two primary causes:

Inability to digest protein (functional hypoglycemia)
•Hydrochloric acid deficiency
•Biliary dysfunction
•Low protein levels in the blood
•Low calcium levels
•Iron deficiency

Inability to digest carbohydrate (reactive hypoglycemia)
•Low blood glucose levels
•Inability to release glycogen from the liver
•Adrenal insufficiency

•An alcoholic “hangover”
Also of enormous importance is the observation that patients suffering with muscle tension headaches present this loss of kyphosis and are relieved by its adjustment given from the anterior to posterior. Dr. M.B. DeJarnette taught that most acute attacks of heartburn or gastritis can be relieved immediately with a so-called anterior dorsal adjustment and the appropriate upper cervical adjustment.

Palpation of the Saucer
Sit the patient on the adjusting table with their legs extended on the table. Have them bend their head forward and slide your fingers down the spinous processes. When the saucer is encountered, press headward on each of the spinous processes. They will be painful and there will usually be at least three vertebral segments involved.
Next palpate across the “shawl area” of the shoulders. Painful muscle contractions or stress points in the upper trapezius and supraspinatus muscles may be associated with Pottenger’s Saucer and responsible for many symptoms beyond headaches and shoulder problems.
Next have the patient lie back in the supine position and ask them when they ate and what. If the patient is struggling with digestion then simple abdominal palpation will point you in the right direction. Of course, if they are still trying to digest their last meal then we can assume the last meal was inadequate to supply needed nutrients to maintain adequate glucose levels.
Understanding the relationship of these two structural areas to functional disturbances such as poor digestion, low blood sugar, and inability to cope with stress, will change your patients’ lives and your practice. Ask yourself who else in the healing arts performs such a quick, easy, convenient screening procedure that yields such valuable information.


Howard F. Loomis, Jr., DC, President of Enzyme Formulations, Inc., has an extensive background in enzymes and enzyme supplementation.  As president for fifteen years of 21st Century Nutrition  (now the Loomis Institute of Enzyme Nutrition), he has forged a remarkable career as an educator, having conducted hundreds of seminars to date, in the United States and internationally, on the diagnosis and treatment of food enzyme deficiency syndromes.  The Loomis System, Dr. Loomis’ system of evaluation, is recognized as a legitimate and proven method of determining a patient’s nutritional stresses.  Call 1-800-662-2630 for more information.

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