Cervicogenic Dizziness in Ottawa

Dr. David King, Ottawa Chiropractor

What is it?

Dizziness is the perception or feeling that you experience as a result of what your brain is interpreting from the information it is gathering. The information primarily involves sight, sound, pressure, vibration, positional sense, and more.

Cervicogenic dizziness occurs when the signals and information from the movement of your neck joints is messed up and confuses your brain about the position of your head and you experience the feeling of being dizzy.

What are the Symptoms?

The symptoms that precede cervicogenic dizziness are usually things like neck tightness or stiffness, a decrease in the ability to look in all directions—think “shoulder-check” when you are driving—or even neck pain. These symptoms may come and go. Because the dizziness feeling itself is not very pronounced it is overshadowed by the pain or discomfort that you feel in your neck. As time goes on you may just live with the stiffness or maybe have a massage or do some stretches. You get relief from these things. Then, months or years later, usually as the stiffness increases or becomes more frequent, the dizziness or “balance” issues creep up on you.

The next thing you know you are grabbing the back of the chair when you stand up, or reaching out for the wall as you are walking down the hallway, or avoiding that room with the funky patterns on the floor—yes, I’ve seen neck problems play a roll in that one too.

You might describe your dizziness sensation as giddiness, unsteadiness, lightheadedness, disorientation, and even perhaps “twisties” or it could be an outright spinning sensation. All of these are very real and a very real threat to your safety and independence.

What is the Cause?

You might just think “it’s part of aging”. Well, if it was due to age then everyone would experience it as we get older. That would not fit with the agility we see in so many so-called “seniors” everyday. Don’t believe me? Just youtube it. I am guessing you will see some amazing feats of balance by people older than you and me!

I want it to be simple. Let’s see what I can do.

In order for your brain to know where it—and thus your head—is it requires information. That information comes from different sensors that your body has. These are specialized nerves and nerve endings.

Your inner ear

This is also called the labyrinth. It is where the semi-circular canals are located. These are like special levels or a gyroscope sensor that send signals to your brain about your head position.

Your eyes

We know your eyes are for sight. But your brain doesn’t just use information from your eyes to know what your are looking at but also your orientation with respect to what you are looking at. It uses information about where the light hits your retina—the special nerves on the inside back part of your eyeball—as well as the information the sensors in your eye muscles send about the position of your eyes when you are looking at something.

Your spinal joints

All the joints of you body have special sensors letting your brain know the angular position of each joint and how much strain or weight is pushing against a joint as a result of gravity and any weight you may be holding or carrying. But the most important joints for balance are in the spine. And of those joints the most important ones are in the upper neck.

I often explain it like this…

Your brain gets information about your head position primarily from your inner ears, your eyes, and your upper neck—the big 3. If the information from these big 3 all match up then your brain is at ease and you don’t notice anything unusual.

However, if the information from one of the big 3 doesn’t match the other 2—referred to as a sensory mismatch—then it can result in the sensation of disorientation and/or dizziness.

How do you know if you have cervicogenic dizziness?

This is not something you can easily determine on your own. As with most cases we see, a skillfully taken patient history will provide 80% of the information needed to determine if it is cervicogenic or neck dizziness you are dealing with. Proper evaluation using provocative tests (tests that aggravate the condition), neurological tests measuring balance (eyes closed vs open, standing on soft vs hard surface, different eye and head positions), evaluating eye movements, evaluating spinal movement or lack thereof, and testing sensation in the legs and feet are all important and usually enough to make the diagnosis. More advanced diagnostic tests can quantify the severity and verify the diagnosis. However, these are very time consuming, costly, and rarely necessary.

What is the Treatment?

In our practice we have treated many people with cervicogenic dizziness over the years. The most important treatment is appropriately adjusting the upper neck. Done effectively, this will begin to have an immediate impact on dizziness originating from the dysfunction of these joints.

In addition to upper neck adjusting we also utilize adjusting other joints of the spine as well as the pelvis, legs, and feet as these all play an important roll in balance as well.

In some cases there are other contributors to the dizziness outside of upper neck dysfunction. If that is the case then we will treat those or refer out to the appropriate practitioner.

What is used and to what degree will depend on the individual case.

What you can do?

To help things along you may need perform neck movement and eye exercises in order to retrain your brain on proper orientation. You might also be instructed to avoid inflammatory activities and foods. Sometimes supportive nutritional supplements are helpful in supporting brain and nerve health.

Don’t wait!

Balance is not just a matter of convenience, it is a matter of safety and independence. It’s one thing not to be able to dance like you used to or be a little off balance walking down the hallway—although those things are bad. But we have known people that fell as a result of neck dizziness and ended up with serious fractures and other injuries. Some have had their driving license taken away. Others just can’t live independently anymore for fear of falling and hurting themselves.

So, while then evidence indicates that our conservative treatments are the way to go, it’s important to realize that they work best when utilized early. The longer you wait the more treatment and time will be required. The longer you leave it, the more difficult it will be to recover and the more chance that you may suffer a fall and/or an injury.

Our successes?

While we can’t make any promises we are confident that if you have cervicogenic dizziness we can help you with our treatment program. We have seen:

  • Balance restored
  • Confidence return
  • Independence retained
  • Freedom enjoyed
  • Cases of 100% recovery

So, if you are dealing with giddiness, unsteadiness, lightheadedness, disorientation, or even perhaps “twisties” or an outright spinning sensation, don’t grab the closest wall and carry on. Contact us and schedule an evaluation. You’ll be glad you did!