Vertigo is not merely feeling dizzy. It is an encompassing sensation that you or the world around you is spinning. In other words, you have a false sense of movement when there actually is no movement happening. Other associated symptoms include nausea, vomiting, problems walking, and sweating. If the symptoms worsen when you move your head in a certain direction, you may have benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), the most prevalent type of vertigo that happens because of a displacement of crystals within the inner ear. Other causes of vertigo are listed below:
- Meniere’s disease
- Brain tumors
- Brain injury
- Head and neck trauma
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chemical exposure
Two Kinds of Vertigo
Vertigo comes in two different types: central and peripheral. They are categorized based upon their causes.
- Peripheral: Vertigo that is induced by an inner ear or vestibular problem would be in this category. The vestibular system is composed of semicircular canals, the vestibule, and the vestibular nerve. BPPV is the top reason for peripheral vertigo. It makes up 32 percent of all cases. Meniere’s disease and labyrinthitis are included in this category as well. Other causes could be any type of inflammation, like from a cold, influenza, bacterial infections, physical trauma and motion sickness.
Vertigo of this kind often comes with mild to moderate imbalance issues, nausea, vomiting, hearing loss, tinnitus, pain in the ear, and a feeling of fullness. In some cases, the person may experience weakness on one side of the face that will usually improve within a few days.
- Central: This kind of vertigo is related to an injury to the balance center of the central nervous system, commonly caused by a lesion in the brainstem or cerebellum. It is connected to less prominent movement illusion and nausea than peripheral vertigo. This type may also include an experience of slurred speech, double vision, and other neurological deficits including nystagmus (abnormal eye movements). The person often feels off balance, so severely at times that they are unable to walk or stand.
Conditions associated with central vertigo are epilepsy, cervical spine disorders (such as cervical spondylosis), lesions, tumors, degenerative ataxia disorders, migraines, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and cerebral dysfunction. Improvement is often very slow to progress if this happens at all.
How Are Vertigo and the Cervical Spine Connected?
The cervical spine is made up of 7 vertebrae, with the atlas and axis at the very top. These two bones are also referred to as the C1 and C2. The rest of the vertebrae, C3 – C7, are classic vertebra that have a body, pedicles, laminae, spinous processes, and facet joints. Unique from all the rest, the C1 and C2 are specifically designed to form a unique set of articulations that provide the head with a wide range of mobility. The C1 acts as a ring or a washer for the skull to be set upon and connects in a pivot joint with the C2. Approximately 50 percent of the neck’s flexibility originates from here.
The neck is made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and bones. The C1 and C2 actually house and protect the brainstem and spinal cord. The brainstem is in charge of sending messages to the brain in order to control all parts of the body while maintaining its strength and flexibility. This makes it possible for it to move in all directions. If something happens to damage the brainstem and causes it to malfunction, vertigo is a possible end result.
The cervical spine plays a couple of vital roles. It must do the following:
- House and protect the spinal cord: A bundle of nerves coming from the brain runs through the cervical spine and is referred to as the spinal cord. It also includes the brainstem.
- Facilitate the flow of blood to the brain: Vertebral openings in the cervical spine provide a passageway for the vertebral arteries to pass through and provide sufficient blood flow to the brain. These openings are only found in the vertebrae of the cervical spine.
- Support the head and allow for movement: The cervical spine carries a huge responsibility, literally. It supports the weight of the head that can be as much as 13 pounds. It must also allow the head to move in many directions.
This makes it apparent as to why the most susceptible part of the spine to damage is the C1 and C2. What are the potential consequences of these bones moving out of alignment?
The Relationship Between the Righting Reflex and Vertigo
Whenever the atlas or axis move out of alignment, the head gets tilted just slightly to the right or left. This is when the body’s righting reflex initiates. The goal of this reflex is to keep the eyes level with the horizon line. The fluid-filled semicircular canals of the ear can also be negatively affected. This causes the sending of inaccurate signals to the brain, leading to the brain being unsure exactly where the body is located in its environment. The end result is vertigo.
Vertigo Resolved Through Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care
A case study involving a 23-year-old woman provides incredible proof of the powerful improvements that upper cervical chiropractic care can have in cases of vertigo. The woman had suffered from headaches her entire life. Then she had a serious fall that caused her to get a concussion. At that point, she began having symptoms of post-concussion syndrome: worsening headaches and vertigo. X-rays revealed that most of her body was out of balance because of a misalignment in her upper cervical spine. With just one adjustment from an upper cervical chiropractor, her symptoms began to improve so much that her vertigo and her headaches left entirely!
The upper cervical chiropractors at our office use a similar method to the one used in the study. Rather than use force on the spine, we apply a gentle and precise adjustment that encourages the bones to return into place. While the method used may be less forceful, it actually produces longer-lasting corrections because it works with the body’s natural healing abilities. Many of our patients have reported great improvements in their vertigo symptoms.