Vertigo is more than just feeling dizzy. It is the sensation that you or the things around you are spinning. It gives you a false sense of movement when there is no movement. You may also experience nausea, vomiting, problems walking, and sweating. If it becomes worse when you move your head in a certain direction, you probably have benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), the most common form of vertigo related to the misplacement of crystals within the inner ear. Other reasons for vertigo are:
- Meniere’s disease
- Brain tumors
- Brain injury
- Head and neck trauma
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chemical exposure
Two Types of Vertigo
There are basically two types of vertigo: central and peripheral. These are categorized due to their causes.
- Peripheral: Vertigo caused by an inner ear or vestibular problem is in this category. The vestibular system is made up of semicircular canals, the vestibule, and the vestibular nerve. BPPV is the most common cause of peripheral vertigo, as it accounts for 32 percent of all cases. Meniere’s disease and labyrinthitis fall into this category also. Any kind of inflammation, such as those due to a cold, influenza, or bacterial infections can also be a cause. Physical trauma and motion sickness belong here as well.
This type of vertigo usually is accompanied by mild to moderate imbalance issues, nausea, vomiting, hearing loss, tinnitus, pain in the ear, and a feeling of fullness. Some may experience weakness on one side of the face. It often improves in a few days’ time.
- Central: This type of vertigo has to do with an injury to the balance centers of the central nervous system commonly due to a lesion in the brainstem or cerebellum. It is often associated with less prominent movement illusion and nausea than peripheral vertigo. It may be accompanied by slurred speech, double vision, and other neurological deficits including nystagmus (abnormal eye movements). You will probably feel off balance, sometimes so severely that you may be 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 slow to progress if it does at all.
How the Cervical Spine Is Connected to Vertigo
The cervical spine consists of 7 vertebrae. The atlas and axis are the top two bones and are also referred to as the C1 and C2. The remaining vertebrae, C3 – C7, are classic vertebra that have a body, pedicles, laminae, spinous processes, and facet joints. However, the C1 and C2 are highly specialized as they form a unique set of articulations that allow for a great range of mobility for the head. The C1 acts as a ring or a washer for the skull to rest upon and connects in a pivot joint with the dens or odontoid process of C2. Around 50 percent of the neck’s flexibility happens here. And 50 percent of the rotation of the neck happens between the C1 and C2.
The anatomy of the neck is made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and bones. The C1 and C2 are the housing structure for the brainstem and spinal cord. The brainstem is responsible for sending messages to the brain so as to control all aspects of the body while maintaining its strength and flexibility. This allows it to move in all directions. If something happens to damage the brainstem and causes it to malfunction, vertigo can be the end result.
The cervical spine has very important jobs. It must:
- 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 shoulders 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.
You can see why the part of the spine that endures the most damage is the C1 and C2. So, what happens when these bones move out of alignment?
The Righting Reflex and Its Relation to Vertigo
If the atlas or axis is out of alignment, the head is tilted just slightly to the right or left. At this point, the body’s righting reflex kicks in. This keeps the eyes level with the horizon line. The fluid-filled semicircular canals of the ear are also negatively affected. The signals sent to the brain at this point are not correct. The brain is unsure just where the body is located in its environment. The result is vertigo.
Columbus Vertigo Treatment
Vertigo Corrected Through Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care
A case study involving a 23-year-old female shows promising results. She had suffered from headaches her whole life. However, she had a hard fall that resulted in a concussion. At that point, she began exhibiting the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome: worsening headaches and vertigo. X-rays revealed that her entire body was out of balance due to a misalignment in her upper cervical spine. She began seeing much improvement after just one adjustment from an upper cervical chiropractor. Both her vertigo and her headaches were gone!
As upper cervical chiropractors, we use a similar method to that used in the study to encourage the bones to move back into place. This does not involve popping or cracking the spine. Rather it is a gentle, precise adjustment that is long lasting in its results. Many patients report seeing much relief from their vertigo.