Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness that is felt as a false sensation of movement. People in the midst of a vertigo attack feel as if they are spinning or being pulled to one side, or that their surroundings are spinning around them. Vertigo is not a standalone diagnosis – it is one of many symptoms that comes along with a variety of vestibular disorders. If you have vestibular dysfunction, other symptoms you might experience during an episode include:
- Feeling unsteady or loss of balance
- Blurred vision
- Changes in hearing
- Cognitive disruptions, including problems with coordination, memory, and thinking
- Neck or back pain
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound
No matter how your particular case of vertigo presents, symptoms can cause a great deal of anxiety, interrupt day-to-day activities, and disrupt your desired lifestyle. To understand the condition better, we’ll take a look at the vestibular system (the system in your body responsible for your sense of balance) and how it relates to your neck, spine, and brain.
What is a Vestibular Disorder?
Having good balance is something that is usually taken for granted until something goes wrong. Vertigo is one of the most common symptoms of a vestibular disorder. Your vestibular system is the system that processes information from your senses and responds by controlling balance and eye movements. It is made up of parts of your inner ear, brain, and brainstem. Vestibular disorders are more common than you may think – a large study estimates that approximately 69 million Americans have experienced some form of vestibular dysfunction.
Sensory input is obtained from your vestibular system, your sight and your sense of touch. Information gathered from these three areas is sent as signals that travel over nerves to reach the brainstem and other areas of the brain. It is then processed and signals are again sent over nerves to help your body control eye movements and muscles to make adjustments to your posture. This is how balance is normally achieved.
How are Vertigo and My Neck Related?
It is well known that vertigo frequently arises following a head or neck injury such as whiplash. Vertigo is also very much related to head position and movement. Aside from giving us support and the ability to move, the spine has the incredibly important job of protecting your brainstem and spinal cord. As the brainstem exits from the base of your skull, it is surrounded by two unique bones that make up the upper cervical spine. The atlas (C1) and axis (C2) are shaped very differently from the rest of the vertebrae in your spine, and that is because they are designed for a specific purpose:
- To bear the weight of your head – 10-12 pounds in an average adult
- To allow for a full range of motion of your head – the ability to look up and down, from left to right, and tilt your head from side to side
Because of how freely movable the upper cervical spine is designed to be, it leaves it especially vulnerable to misaligning. This can happen because of an accident, injury, or wear and tear. When an atlas or axis misalignment is present, it causes the head to be carried abnormally, tilting either to the left or the right. When the eyes become off-level it can cause issues with the rest of the spine as well as irritate the nerves and brainstem responsible for processing signals that aid in keeping you in balance.
Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care for Vertigo Sufferers
Upper cervical chiropractic care looks at the relationship of the vertebrae of the upper neck and the brainstem. If the bones (C1 and C2) that are responsible for protecting the brainstem misalign, it can disrupt its ability to function normally. When the brainstem is not able to process signals properly, it can essentially confuse the brain into thinking you or the environment around you is spinning. This can lead to ongoing episodes of vertigo that, until the root cause is corrected, may not resolve completely.
To highlight just one success story out of many, a 23-year-old female sought out the care of an upper cervical chiropractor five months after a slip and fall injury that caused a mild concussion. As a result, she was experiencing vertigo along with chronic headaches. As is often the case following a head injury, an upper cervical chiropractic examination revealed that the atlas was misaligned. After a week following the first gentle upper cervical specific adjustment, the patient reported that she had not experienced any headaches or vertigo episodes at all. Ongoing follow-up showed that vertigo never returned.
If you are suffering from vertigo and feel as though you’ve tried everything in order to find relief, then having your neck examined by an upper cervical chiropractor might hold the key to the lasting results you’re seeking. The goal of upper cervical care is to precisely correct the atlas misalignment and allow it to hold in place for as long as possible. This eliminates the need for repeated, forceful manipulations of the neck and lets the body’s natural ability to heal occur as optimally as possible. To learn more about how upper cervical chiropractic care is different and about how it may be able to help you, contact a practitioner in your community for an obligation-free consultation.
Mayheu A, Sweat M. Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care of a Patient with Post Concussion Syndrome, Positional Vertigo, and Headaches. J Upper Cervical Chiropr Res 2011; Jan 6:3-9.