Vertigo, or the hallucination of motion, is the result of a mismatch between what is really occurring in the environment around you and what the signals that your senses of touch, sight, and inner ears are communicating to your brain. What many people may not know is that vertigo is a symptom, not a condition or disease in and of itself. There are many reasons why a person might experience an episode of vertigo – it can be caused by something as simple as a cold or sinus infection or, much more rarely, something serious like a stroke or tumor.
- Having vertigo is different from feeling dizzy. Dizziness is a vague term that is used to describe all kinds of sensations. Dizziness can be caused by dehydration, low blood pressure, motion sickness, and from spinning around as you would on a merry-go-round. Vertigo, however, is a true sense of false movement. Vertigo can make a person feel dizzy, but always has the elements of whirling, spinning, swaying, or tilting. Some vertigo sufferers may feel as if they’re experiencing the movement and others may feel as if their surroundings are spinning. Unlike dizziness, true vertigo is often accompanied by nausea or even vomiting.
- Women experience vertigo three times as often as men. The reasons for this imbalance are not entirely clear, but the difference might be accounted for in the facts that women experience bone loss and vitamin D deficiently differently than men. One of the main components of otoconia, crystals embedded in the inner ear that can loosen and cause BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), is calcium and both bone loss and low vitamin D levels can affect your body’s calcium metabolism. Migraines are also more common in women, and many migraine sufferers will also have some type of associated vestibular function.
- Vertigo sufferers can compromise mental health. Because vertigo attacks frequently come on suddenly without warning, many people living with vertigo develop anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Chronic vertigo has the potential to cause a big impact on quality of life. Some people may lose the ability to drive a car, hold a job, or care for themselves and their family, which can take a great emotional toll.
- Activities that challenge your sense of balance can help with vertigo. As we age, we may naturally lose coordination and the ability to balance as well as we did when we were younger. Additionally, the neurons in your inner ears may not function as well, adding to the problem. Finding activities that you like that give your sense of balance a challenge may help you to stave off vertigo attacks. Try things like yoga, dancing, and tai chi to keep yourself nimble.
- The underlying cause of vertigo might lie in the neck. Many vertigo sufferers have one thing in common: a past injury or trauma to the neck or head. This connection is often missed because there can be a lag time of many years between the injury and the onset of vertigo symptoms. Head position plays a critical role in normal balance and when the uppermost vertebra in the neck, the atlas (C1), is not able to balance the head in a neutral position, vertigo can easily result.
Vertigo and the Importance of a Healthy Spine
Your body relies on input and responses from several sources in order to maintain its sense of balance:
- Your eyes: your sense of vision is important when it comes to relaying cues to your brain regarding your body’s orientation with respect to the environment around you.
- Your joints and muscles: sensors in your muscles and joints called proprioceptors communicate to your brain about how your limbs are positioned and how to react in order to achieve a sense of balance.
- Your inner ear/vestibular system: the components of your inner ear make up your vestibular system, which detects movement against gravity in all planes. Receptors in your inner ear send impulses to the brain symmetrically when both ears are functioning properly.
- Your brainstem: the brainstem acts as a sorting and integration center for signals containing balance information.
The hub of all balance activity in the body is the brainstem, and the brainstem is encircled and protected by the upper cervical spine, the top two segments in the neck. These vertebrae, C1 (the atlas) and C2 (the axis), are the most freely movable of the whole spine to account for the range of motion of our head. However, being so freely movable comes with a potential downside: the ability to misalign more easily as a result of an injury or wear and tear that occurs over time.
If you or a loved one are living with any vertigo-causing condition, an important step to take as soon as possible is to schedule a visit to an upper cervical chiropractor. Chiropractors who focus on upper cervical care are specialists in understanding how the brain and body work together to achieve a sense of balance. When the vertebrae that balance the head are not in proper alignment, it can hinder normal signaling from the body to the brain about position sense. This can essentially cause confusion in the brain about how your body is positioned, leading to vertigo episodes as a consequence.
Upper cervical chiropractic care has helped vertigo sufferers regain their quality of life. Whether your vertigo is caused by BPPV, Meniere’s disease, labyrinthitis, vestibular neuritis, or otherwise, an upper cervical chiropractor may be able to help you address the underlying cause. Use the “Find a Doctor” tab on our website to locate a practitioner close to you.
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