Vertigo is a type of dizziness that causes the sensation of spinning or whirling. A person in the midst of a vertigo attack might feel as if the environment around them is moving even though they’re still. It can also feel as if the person themselves is moving when they are not. Vertigo, in and of itself, is not a standalone condition. Rather, vertigo is a symptom of many other diseases or illnesses and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, headache, changes in hearing, lightheadedness, tinnitus, and other symptoms.
Vertigo and Your Body’s Balance System
Vertigo, dizziness, and disequilibrium (feeling unsteady or off-balance) can all result from dysfunction of the vestibular system. The vestibular system is how your body maintains a normal sense of balance. When it’s working properly, there’s never any reason to notice or pay much attention to it. However, when there are vestibular dysfunction and its resulting symptoms, it can be very debilitating.
Your body stays in balance using a combination of signals from three different places:
- The eyes (vision)
- Proprioception (sensors found in the spine, extremities, and trunk)
- The vestibular system (the inner ear)
Sensory information from these three sources is sent to the brainstem where it’s processed in order to give appropriate feedback to the body to maintain posture and balance. A healthy, functional vestibular system provides the most reliable information to your brain about how your body is oriented in space. Compromises in vision and proprioception are better tolerated and overcome by the brain, but vestibular abnormalities are more problematic and can cause bigger problems.
Vestibular disease and dysfunction can happen as a result of head injury, viral infection, environmental factors, and can even have a genetic component. Some of the most common vertigo-causing vestibular disorders include:
- Meniere’s disease – Meniere’s disease involves an abnormal buildup of fluid, called endolymph, within the inner ear. It causes bouts of severe vertigo along with tinnitus, fluctuating hearing loss, and a sense of fullness in the involved ear.
- BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo) – BPPV occurs when calcium crystals migrate and collect within the fluid-filled semicircular canals of the inner ear. This disrupts the normal balance signaling system and results in brief, severe bursts of vertigo especially with position changes like getting out of bed first thing in the morning.
- Vestibular neuronitis – The vestibular nerve, which carries balance signals between the brainstem and inner ear, can be affected by a viral infection. This can cause inflammation that will have an impact on vestibular function.
- Mal de debarquement – Following a sea cruise or other form of travel, the sensation of rocking or moving can persist, causing vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance.
- Vestibular migraine – Certain migraines can be associated with vestibular impairment. In addition to traditional migraine symptoms of head pain, nausea, and potential visual disturbances, vestibular migraines can also cause vertigo, tinnitus, spatial disorientation, and intolerance to motion.
Looking to the Neck for Vertigo Relief
For many vertigo sufferers, it isn’t difficult to make the connection between a head or neck injury and their condition. In those cases, it may be that their symptoms began soon after a memorable trauma. However, in many other cases, it’s not as easy to connect those dots. Perhaps it’s because the initial injury didn’t seem severe enough or there was a big lapse in time (sometimes even decades) between the head or neck trauma and the onset of vertigo symptoms.
When a person sustains a head or neck injury, even from something seemingly simple like a parking lot fender bender or slip and fall, it can cause a slight misalignment of the vertebrae at the junction between the head and neck. This area of the spine is very different from the rest:
- Within the central nervous system, this is where your brain transitions into your spinal cord
- No other area of the spine moves as much as the junction formed between the skull (occiput), atlas (C1) and axis (C2).
- This area houses a complex network of vascular structures responsible for normal blood flow between the brain and body.
- Normal alignment of the upper cervical spine allows for proper circulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the central nervous system.
- The atlas vertebra, in particular, sits very closely to the structures of the inner ear and jaw, and any misalignment here can disrupt their normal functioning.
Because head injury is one of the best-known causes of vestibular disorders, overlooking this critical area of anatomy can be one of the underlying causes of persistent vertigo symptoms.
The Upper Cervical Chiropractic Vertigo Solution
Upper cervical chiropractic care carves out a niche within the broader chiropractic profession by honing its focus on the alignment of the atlas and axis as it relates to the skull. This subspecialty is unique in how we correct these misalignments. Upper cervical care is precise and gentle, forgoing the need for the forceful twisting and popping adjustments often associated with chiropractic care. At Evoke Spinal Care, we do a detailed examination that will let us know precisely if an atlas misalignment is present and contributing to the root cause of your vertigo condition. We then create a customized plan for each of our patients to start to restore normal upper cervical alignment. The goal over time is for your atlas correction to start holding in place on its own, allowing your body’s natural healing process to occur. This is sometimes all that is needed in order to experience a lasting resolution of vertigo and all of its associated symptoms. If upper cervical care sounds like something you’d like to explore, then contact our office at 925-523-1022 to schedule your complimentary consultation.