The majority of people will experience the sensation of dizziness at one time or another in their life. Many times feeling lightheaded, faint, or off balance is a short, isolated experience, but it can also be more chronic and debilitating.
Vertigo is generally described as a sensation of motion where a person or their environment seems to move or spin uncontrollably. This condition can occur regardless of bodily position, such as standing, sitting, or lying down. Mild to severe attacks can be short-lived or last for an extended duration. It is often associated with other symptoms:
- Hearing loss
- A feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear
- Tinnitus or ringing in the ear
Vertigo is more than just a feeling of lightheadedness. It can intensify simple movements, significantly burdening your everyday life.
What Causes Vertigo?
It’s important to note that vertigo is a symptom and not the main problem. In order to alleviate it, you must find the root cause. Vertigo is divided into types depending on where a root problem stems from. The two main types are Peripheral Vertigo and Central Vertigo.
Peripheral Vertigo is by far the most frequent and primarily caused by something affecting the inner ear. Inner ear disorders can send information to your brain that conflicts with what your eyes and sensory nerves are sending. Here are some conditions that fall under this classification:
- Meniere’s Disease (a buildup of fluid in the inner ear)
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV, out-of-place calcium crystals)
- Labyrinthitis (inflammation of the inner ear)
- Damage to organs in the inner ear
Additional signs associated with Peripheral Vertigo are:
- Problems focusing the eyes
- Hearing loss in one ear
- Balance problems
Central Vertigo stems from problems with the central nervous system. It may be from the brain stem or a complication with messaging to and from the brain. All blood flow and messaging to and from your body travels through your neck. It’s kind of like the original “information highway.” Any disruption in the flow of this “traffic” is cause for some concern. The vestibular system includes parts of the inner ear, the vestibular nerve, brain stem, and cerebellum. This system controls and monitors our motion, spatial orientation, and equilibrium. The vestibular nerve runs to the brain stem. Pressure or tension along this area can interfere with the messages getting back and forth between your body and your brain.
By far the most common reason for central vertigo is migraines, but it’s not the only one, especially if the migraine is also just a symptom of another underlying problem.
- Head or neck injuries and trauma
- Upper cervical misalignment (generally due to injury or trauma)
- Vagus Nerve overstimulation (Restricting blood flow and oxygen to the brain)
If you or someone you know shows any signs of these less common, but serious, problems you should seek medical care right away.
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Additional signs can be associated with Central Vertigo:
- Facial paralysis
- Eye movement difficulties
- Weak limbs
- Difficulty swallowing
- Slurred speech
- Double vision
Vertigo and Upper Cervical Misalignment
Upper cervical misalignment can create conditions that trigger vertigo and dizziness. A misalignment can cause problems with ear function in the form of fluid buildup due to changes or damage to soft tissue affecting the Eustachian tubes. If cerebral blood flow is hindered due to a cervical spine misalignment or over-stimulation of the Vagus Nerve, then the brain can’t receive enough oxygen. This can result in problems with the central nervous system, which can lead to the migraines that cause vertigo. If the Atlas, the bone at the top of the neck, becomes misaligned, it can put pressure on the brain stem and interrupt key messages through the body concerning orientation and balance.
The brain stem is located within the top two bones of the neck, the Atlas and the Axis, which only weigh about two ounces each. These two small bones hold up the head. Weighing an average of 10-13 lbs, the human head greatly outweighs its own support structure, so a misalignment here can cause instability. This instability can lead to numerous health problems, including vertigo.
A thorough examination is necessary in order to rule out more serious, life-threatening causes or inner ear problems. A chiropractic diagnosis also focuses on cervicogenic causes. This can include identifying risk factors, analyzing symptoms, measuring structural displacements in the upper cervical area, and other diagnostic testing options. Once the root cause is identified, an effective treatment focusing on correcting underlying conditions can be chosen and implemented.
Chiropractic treatment for vertigo
Standard medical treatment of vertigo generally includes medication, some exercises or therapy, and possibly even surgery to relieve the symptoms of the condition. However, treating the underlying cause of the symptoms should be the basis of any long-term solution.
Many of the causes of vertigo and dizziness are rooted in problems with the upper cervical area. This makes chiropractic care an excellent treatment option. Chiropractic can reduce or eliminate symptoms and help you avoid unnecessary treatments that just mask the problem. Chiropractic care can help identify and correct many causes of vertigo and dizziness, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for medications or surgery.
BPPV can be helped through canalith repositioning. With this procedure, a series of head maneuvers are used to shift calcium crystals displaced in the inner ear into their correct position.
Cold laser therapy uses low-level, nonthermal (no heat) photons. The beam deeply penetrates tissue at the location of an injury in order to help reduce pain, swelling, and spasms. The cold laser is held over the injured area, and it is theorized that when cells absorb the photons, that initiates a process within them causing them to work together to repair damage. This reduces inflammation, edema, and pain. Nerve function is stimulated, and blood flow increases. This can have the benefit of decreasing healing time.
Inflammation and swelling can occur in the upper cervical area due to injury or stress and restrict blood and oxygen flow to the brain creating the conditions for vertigo and dizziness. This type of treatment can be very beneficial in treating these symptoms. Cold laser therapy is a painless add-on to good spinal care that promotes the healing process without the side effects of medications. Several treatments may be necessary depending on what the problem is, but it is a relatively inexpensive procedure, and most people experience great results.
Misalignment in the upper cervical area of the spine, whether due to trauma or bad posture, can cause indirect pressure on the brain stem and disrupt the proper functioning of the central nervous system. Using upper cervical techniques, a chiropractor can adjust and reposition these vertebrae back into their correct alignment and relieve this pressure, allowing the central nervous system to function normally again. The importance of having a smooth, unblocked pathway through the upper cervical area for blood, oxygen, and nerve function cannot be stressed enough.
For more information, see this article about neck pain, the eyes, and the ears as they relate to balance.
If you experience a sense of vertigo or dizziness, don’t take any risks. Contact Dr. Dave now.