Vertigo is a type of dizziness that experienced as a false sense of movement. A person experiencing a vertigo episode may feel like they are spinning or the environment around them is spinning. The term vertigo describes this specific sensation. It isn’t a diagnosis or condition in and of itself. Rather, vertigo is a symptom of many possible conditions.
Dizziness and vertigo are terms that are often, mistakenly, used interchangeably. Dizziness is a non-distinct way of describing what can be multiple, related sensations, including:
- Feeling unsteady or off-balance (disequilibrium)
- Feeling faint or like you’re about to pass out
- Sense of lightheadedness
- Feeling spacey or out of it
- Actual vertigo, or the false sensation of movement
People who experience vertigo may also have other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ear, abnormal eye movements, headaches or migraines, neck pain, hearing changes, anxiety, and trouble with balance. Vertigo episodes can be quite incapacitating. Since they can come on suddenly, they have a large impact on day-to-day tasks like driving a car.
How Does My Body Maintain Balance?
Balance is your body’s ability to stay centered over your feet. When your sense of balance is working correctly, maintaining upright posture is something that is often taken for granted. However, when your body’s balance system is compromised, what normally happens to adjust your posture without thinking about it fails to occur.
The body maintains balance with input from three different systems:
- Your vision – what your eyes see helps your brain to understand how your body is positioned in space.
- Sensors in the limbs and spine – sensors that are sensitive to pressure and touch send signals over your body’s nervous system to communicate to the brain about how the various joints in your body are positioned.
- Your inner ear – components of your inner ear make up the vestibular system. The inner ear has fluid-filled canals that sense motion, spatial orientation, and head position.
The brainstem receives all of the information from these three sources. It is the part of the central nervous system where the brain and spinal cord form a junction.
Vertigo: The Brainstem-Spine Connection
When it comes to vertigo, one of the major players might actually be your neck. More specifically, the atlas (C1) vertebra that forms the connection between the head and neck has the important job of providing a ring of protection for the brainstem. When the atlas is in the proper position, it allows for a smooth, clear passageway for the brain to transition to the brainstem as it exits the skull and then your spinal cord continuing on below. It’s no secret that many vertigo sufferers have experienced some type of head or neck injury in their past, whether from an auto accident, sports injury, or simple slip and fall. Those people then went on to develop vertigo symptoms and, since months or even years elapsed before their onset, never made the connection between the two.
When a person sustains even a minor head or neck injury, the atlas has the distinct potential to misalign because it lacks features that the rest of the spine has to keep it stable. The atlas has no intervertebral discs to help absorb forces and it also lacks the locking facet joints that help to restrict movement in other areas of the spine. This makes the atlas very movable, which is necessary for head movement but also leaves it vulnerable to misaligning. With the atlas in an abnormal position, the brainstem can become irritated, creating a disruption in the way it can process balance signals.
The Upper Cervical Chiropractic Solution to Vertigo
Upper cervical chiropractic care is a subspecialty of the chiropractic profession that focuses on the critical area where the top of the spine and the skull connect. This area is completely different from the rest of the spine due to its shape and functions. The upper neck, or upper cervical spine, enjoys the most mobility out of any other spinal region. It is also one of the most complex areas, and upper cervical chiropractors will often have additional training and certifications in order to be proficient at adjusting this delicate area.
What makes upper cervical chiropractic care so effective for vertigo sufferers?
- It’s precise – you will work with your upper cervical chiropractor to take detailed images of your head and neck alignment so that the exact right correction can be customized for you.
- It’s gentle – because we take detailed measurements of each of our patients’ misalignment, upper cervical chiropractic adjustments are extremely gentle. We accomplish a successful correction of atlas alignment without using any force.
- It’s designed to yield lasting results – one of the goals of upper cervical chiropractic is to restore normal atlas alignment with an adjustment that holds. Your body’s ability to hold the adjustment for as long as possible is what yields lasting results. We get to the underlying cause of vertigo. Therefore, you can experience a reduction in the frequency and severity of your episodes.
If you are struggling with any vertigo- inducing condition, consult with an upper cervical chiropractor in your community. This professional can help you connect the dots and provide you with the missing answers you’ve been seeking. We can help patients with BPPV, Meniere’s disease, post-concussion syndrome, mal de debarquement syndrome, migraines, or others.