Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness that is experienced as a false sensation of movement. A person in the midst of a vertigo episode may feel as if they, the environment around them, or both are spinning or whirling. An important thing to understand about vertigo is that it is not a diagnosis. Rather, vertigo is a description of a particular sensation and a symptom of many diseases and health conditions. When you experience a vertigo attack, getting a proper diagnosis as to what is causing it can help you to manage and care for your symptoms more effectively.
The Top 5 Vertigo-Causing Conditions
While there are many reasons why vertigo can develop, these five are among the most common:
- BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo): BPPV is the most common vertigo-causing disorder and despite a complicated name, is fairly straightforward. BPPV causes short bursts of vertigo that occur in conjunction with changes in head position. Particles of calcium that are normally embedded in part of the inner ear can become dislodged and travel into another part of the inner ear (usually the posterior semicircular canal) where they don’t belong. The presence of these calcium crystals in the fluid-filled semicircular canal can disrupt the normal fluid movement that is responsible for communicating information to your brain about the position of your head. This is how the false sensation of spinning occurs in BPPV.
- Vestibular migraines: approximately 40% of migraine sufferers will experience vertigo, dizziness, or other balance disruption. Migraines alone can be extremely debilitating, and when you add in vertigo and its associated symptoms of nausea, tinnitus, spatial disorientation, vision changes, and balance compromise, it can be made even worse.
- Meniere’s disease: disabling vertigo attacks are just one of the symptoms that characterize Meniere’s disease. Other associated symptoms include the sensation of fullness in the affected ear, fluctuating hearing loss, and tinnitus (ringing in the ear). The cause of Meniere’s disease is believed to be an accumulation of excess fluid that is normally present in the inner ear.
- Labyrinthitis: The labyrinth is the bony outer wall of the inner ear that is made up of the temporal bone of the skull. An ear infection can cause inflammation of the inner ear that can result in severe vertigo, abnormal eye movements (called nystagmus), tinnitus, nausea and/or vomiting, and possibly even hearing loss.
- Vestibular neuronitis: The vestibular nerve is a branch of cranial nerve 8 (the vestibulocochlear nerve) that is responsible for communicating balance signals between the inner ear and brainstem. This nerve can become inflamed, usually due to a viral infection, and cause sudden and severe vertigo attacks. Vestibular neuronitis can occur as a single, isolated vertigo episode that can last for up to 10 days. Many people will experience additional, more mild attacks that can last for several weeks after the initial one.
The Neck Injury-Vertigo Connection
There is an established link between vertigo conditions and a history of head or neck trauma. This can be attributed to injuries such as whiplash, concussion, sports-related injury (I.e. fall during skiing, biking, or equestrian), a simple slip and fall, or a work-related injury. Any of these traumas can easily cause a misalignment of the vertebrae of the upper cervical spine, the atlas (C1) and/or axis (C2). While this may not seem important at first, if left out of place for long enough, it can begin to compromise normal neurological function as it relates to your body’s ability to adequately maintain a sense of balance.
The C1 and C2 vertebrae protect an area that is critical to your body’s balance system, the brainstem. The brainstem acts as a switchboard for signals that relay information from the parts of your body that gather information about balance: the eyes, the inner ear (vestibular system), and from sensors in your limbs called proprioceptors. Balance signals are processed and integrated by the brainstem in order to mount the appropriate response in order to maintain your posture. An upper cervical misalignment can wreak havoc on this signaling system and leave you vulnerable to developing vertigo in the months or years after your initial injury.
How to Find Natural, Effective Vertigo Relief
Knowing that an underlying factor for so many vertigo sufferers is an upper neck misalignment, a huge step towards finding relief lies in getting that misalignment corrected and giving your body ample time to heal. Upper cervical chiropractic care is a subspecialty of chiropractic that focuses on the upper neck. This is a critical and delicate area of the spine, and upper cervical chiropractors receive extensive training in their chosen technique to provide safe, gentle, and effective adjustments in order to restore normal alignment.
One of the most positive steps any vertigo sufferer can take is having their neck examined by an upper cervical chiropractor to determine if a misalignment is an underlying factor in their condition. Many people with vertigo may feel like they’ve exhausted all of their options and have resigned themselves to living with the uneasy feeling of when their next attack might occur. Vertigo patients under upper cervical chiropractic care often experience positive results that include a reduction in the frequency of attacks, less severe attacks when they do recur, and a return to many activities of normal, daily life. To learn more about upper cervical chiropractic care and how it can help you get the relief you’ve been looking for, use the search feature on our website to find a practitioner near you.
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