If you’ve ever experienced a vertigo attack, you know firsthand how disorienting and alarming it can be. An episode may come on with no warning whatsoever, or there may be subtle signs that a bout of vertigo is imminent. Vertigo can be described as the illusion of movement – either the person experiencing it feels as if they are moving or that the environment around them is. Under normal circumstances, we don’t usually think about what it takes for your body to navigate over an uneven surface (like your gravel driveway) or walk to the bathroom at night through the darkness of the bedroom. When your body’s balance system is working as it should, it operates in the background unnoticed. In contrast, vertigo sufferers are often acutely aware of their unreliable sense of balance and can experience anxiety and fear over when the next attack may occur.
Vertigo is not a disease or health condition in and of itself, but rather a symptom of many other conditions. It can be caused by something as simple as a head cold or as ominous as a brain tumor. However, the most common causes of vertigo, by far, are related to problems within the inner ear and how it is able to communicate with the brain about your body’s position and sense of balance.
What Happens During a Vertigo Episode?
The inner ear is responsible for our sense of balance and our sense of position in space. There are three pairs of fluid-filled canals that make up our vestibular system, which is a key component in the coordination of balance in our body. The job of these canals is to detect head movement and position and to communicate to the brain in order to mount the appropriate responses such as repositioning our neck, limbs, and eyes in order to keep us stable and upright.
A vertigo attack can happen when the inner ear is not functioning properly or when the brain receives improper signals about balance and position. When our sense of balance is compromised, it can not only result in episodes of vertigo but in other symptoms that often go hand in hand with vertigo attacks such as:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Nystagmus – abnormal movements of the eyes
- Hearing loss
- Loss of balance
An episode of vertigo can last for a few seconds up to hours or even days. They may come and go with years in between or be constant in nature. Sometimes vertigo is provoked by changes in head position, like bending over to pick something up from the floor or rolling over in bed at night.
How is my Neck Related to my Vertigo?
For some vertigo sufferers, it’s not difficult to relate the beginning of their symptoms to a particular incident or injury to the head or neck. Head injuries, being one of the most common causes of vertigo, often precede the diagnosis of vertigo-causing conditions such as Meniere’s Disease. The challenge, however, is that there is often a lag of many years between the development of vertigo and the original injury.
When there’s been an injury to the head or neck, it has the potential to cause a misalignment of the vertebra that sits at the junction between them. This region, usually referred to as the upper cervical spine or the craniocervical junction, is arguably one of the most unique and important parts of the human body. The atlas vertebra (C1) and axis vertebra (C2) are of a completely different shape than those of the rest of the spine. The atlas, in particular, lacks features that create stability in the rest of the spine. It has no discs above or below it to absorb forces from injury or wear and tear. Because it’s built for mobility and freedom of movement, the atlas also lacks facet joints that are present throughout the rest of the spinal column, keeping it more stable.
This area is particularly relevant to vertigo sufferers because it provides protection for the brainstem. Balance information collected from your senses – your eyes, muscles, joints, and vestibular system – is sent to the brainstem to be sorted. If the atlas is misaligned, it can inhibit normal brainstem function and can be a contributing factor in the development of vertigo, dizziness, and balance disorders.
Natural and Effective Vertigo Care
Upper cervical chiropractic care is a niche within the chiropractic profession that has a very narrow focus – the restoration of normal alignment of the vertebrae that sit at the junction between the head and neck. This is accomplished by taking the time needed to do a thorough examination and analysis of each of our patient’s head and neck positioning. At Upper Cervical of Monmouth, we recognize the unique situation of each individual that comes to see us. No two scenarios are just alike so it makes sense, then, that our upper cervical adjustments are customized for our patients. This allows us to make precise, gentle corrections that do not require the forceful twisting or popping that is often associated with a neck adjustment.
By intentionally correcting and maintaining normal atlas alignment, your body can begin to heal naturally as normal function is restored. We have helped many vertigo sufferers get back to living life on their own terms. Before resigning yourself to living with vertigo, contact us for a complimentary consultation to learn more about upper cervical chiropractic care.