Cervicogenic Vertigo

Your brain processes three different inputs to establish your sense of balance: your inner ear, your eyes, and tiny pressure sensors that line the inside of the joints of your upper neck.  Each of these systems relays information to your brain about the position of your head and body.  Dizziness or “vertigo” arises when one or more of these balance systems malfunctions and “confuses” your brain by sending incorrect information.  Cervicogenic vertigo occurs when your vertigo is coming from a cervical problem.

What causes cervicogenic vertigo?

When you lean your head sideways, the pressure sensors on that side of your neck are triggered and relay information to your brain about the tilt of your head.  When your inner ear and eyes agree with this information, all is well.  If one of the joints in your neck becomes abnormally restricted, it’s pressure sensors are falsely stimulated.  This sensory mismatch, called “cervicogenic vertigo”, confuses your brain into a temporary state of dizziness until it can sort things out.  Cervicogenic vertigo can develop when the muscles of your neck are too tight or the joints become stuck in an abnormal position.  Certain conditions, like joint swelling, disc bulges, muscle tightness, or arthritis can be risk factors for cervicogenic vertigo.  This condition commonly develops after “whiplash” injuries.

What are vertigo symptoms when caused by the neck?

Cervicogenic vertigo can cause a feeling of light-headedness, floating, unsteadiness, or general imbalance, but rarely, true “spinning.”  Your symptoms likely come and go.  Movement provokes symptoms, then eased by remaining still.  Many patients report some neck discomfort or stiffness associated with their dizziness.  You may notice a headache beginning near the base of your skull.  Be sure to tell your doctor if you have a severe or different headache.

You should also inform your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • history of head injury,
  • loss of consciousness,
  • frequent unexplained falls,
  • hearing loss,
  • ringing in your ears,
  • ear “fullness”,
  • earache,
  • fever,
  • numbness or tingling,
  • visual disturbances,
  • difficulty speaking,
  • difficulty swallowing,
  • difficulty walking,
  • or if you are taking a new medication.

Conservative chiropractic care, like the type provided in our office, is very effective at relieving cervicogenic vertigo.  Commonly a treatment plan includes upper cervical adjustments, myofascial release, and therapeutic exercise.  One of the world’s leading expert,  Karel Lewit, MD, states, “in no field is manipulation more effective than in the treatment of vertigo.”  Studies have shown a greater than 90% success rate for the chiropractic treatment of cervicogenic vertigo.

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