Vertigo is a false sensation of movement that can be totally incapacitating for people who experience it. It is the feeling of spinning or whirling, and can come with nausea, vomiting, and loss of balance. People who suffer with vertigo turn to many approaches in order to find relief. In many instances, treatment aimed to reduce the symptoms instead of the underlying cause. As more is being understood about vertigo-inducing conditions, promising research about upper cervical chiropractic care is becoming more readily available.
Before we discuss the research, it’s important to understand some mechanisms behind conditions that cause vertigo attacks. First of all, vertigo is a symptom and not a diagnosis. It can be a component of many disorders, including BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), Meniere’s disease, labyrinthitis, or vestibular neuronitis.
Our vestibular system, which helps to control and maintain our sense of position and balance, has a few key components.
- Parts of your inner ear, including the fluid-filled semicircular canals
- The vestibulocochlear nerve, the 8th cranial nerve, which conducts signals from the inner ear to the brainstem
- The cerebellum
- Sensors in your arms and legs that control proprioception, which is how your brain knows your body’s position in space
- Visual input from your eyes
While this might seem complicated, much of what needs to be understood is that in order for your body to maintain its stability and sense of balance, there needs to be clear communication between your brain and the various parts of your body.
The Upper Cervical Spine and Vertigo
Because so much of your body’s balance relies on the proper communication of signals between the brain and body, the health of your spine becomes a big factor. This is because the spine is the protector of our nervous system. Our brain, brainstem, and spinal cord are so critical to our body’s overall function that they are completely protected by bone. The brainstem, where the majority of our cranial nerves branch off (including the vestibulocochlear nerve, cranial nerve #8), is protected by the atlas vertebra. The atlas vertebra also happens to be the most freely movable one of the entire spinal column. This is good because it allows us to move our heads around, but it also leaves an area that is vulnerable to injury.
When the atlas misaligns, whether due to head or neck trauma or repetitive use injury, it can begin to irritate or put pressure on the brainstem. This can lead to the distortion of signals which can, in essence, confuse the brain into a false sensation of motion. Certainly, this can be the underlying cause of many vertigo cases. Upper cervical chiropractic recognizes this as a major factor, and several published research studies give credence to this idea.
A Glimpse into the Vertigo Research
There have been several upper cervical chiropractic studies published that followed the outcomes of vertigo sufferers under care. The results show a great deal of promise and tell us that there is no need to suffer needlessly or get stuck in a symptom-chasing cycle of various medications and therapies.
The goal of this study was to take a look at the role of head and neck trauma as it relates to the onset of vertigo. In this particular research study, 60 vertigo patients participated, 56 of whom could recall some type of head or neck injury. These injuries ranged from a simple slip and fall to more severe motor vehicle accidents.
All 60 people suffered with their vertigo symptoms anywhere from 1 to 27 years. Many reported that they had “tried everything” in order to find relief, including neck exercises, medications, PT, acupuncture, and more. Upon chiropractic examination, all 60 patients were found to have an upper cervical misalignment, also called subluxation. A course of upper cervical chiropractic care began for each of the 60 patients. The end result showed very positive outcomes. In conclusion, all 60 patients reported either an improvement or complete reversal in their condition. Forty-eight of the 60 no longer had any symptoms of vertigo. The remaining 12 showed a measurable improvement in the severity and/or frequency of their vertigo episodes.
This study looked at patients suffering from one of the more common causes of severe vertigo: Meniere’s disease. Meniere’s sufferers can experience debilitating vertigo attacks, along with tinnitus, hearing loss, and the feeling of fullness in the ear. Over 100 patients diagnosed with Meniere’s disease underwent a period of upper cervical chiropractic care to address atlas subluxation that was interfering with normal brain-body communication. At the end of only six weeks of care, vertigo, nausea and vomiting went down dramatically. In short, improvements were made in 136 out of 139 patients, a success rate of nearly 98%. This impacted whether these people were able to work, drive a car, maintain a positive marriage, and other benefits to quality of life. Interestingly, it took an average of 15 years from the time of a recalled head or neck injury to the development of vertigo and other associated Meniere’s disease symptoms.
During this study, researchers hypothesized that upper cervical subluxation resulting from whiplash injury to the neck was the root cause of vertigo and Meniere’s disease. Patients rated the severity of their vertigo on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being symptom-free and 10 being the worst imaginable. Before upper cervical adjustments, vertigo averaged 8.5. For reference, at a rating of 5 or above, people reported an inability to perform basic functions such as socializing, driving a car, or going to work. After a six-week period of care, the average went down from 8.5 to 3. At the conclusion of the study, the average was all the way down to 0.8. These results led to a significant improvement for 291 of the 300 patients.
A growing body of evidence tells that upper cervical chiropractic care can be a revolutionary approach for people experiencing vertigo. At Besso Clinic, we understand the factors that can be contributing to vertigo-causing conditions. If an upper cervical problem is an underlying issue, then we restore your body’s normal function. Contact us for a complimentary consultation to find out more about how we can help.