Balance Disorder

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Balance Disorder

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What is Dizziness and what upper cervical does?

Constant and persistent dizziness is one of the most emotionally and physically draining symptoms that any human being can suffer. On the outside, you look normal. What’s more frustrating is that even when you have tests - blood tests, CTs, or MRIs - their results all pretty come back as being “normal.” Except what you experience is anything but normal. So what are you left to do? Take medication? Do the exercises? Change your diet? Reduce your stress?

But what if that isn’t enough? What if the dizziness persists? When it comes to dizziness, there is a major difference between the cause and the triggers. Yes, stress is often a major trigger. However, stress can only aggravate something that is already there. So if you’ve had all the tests to know that the problem isn’t a brain tumor, an infection, or damage to your brain or inner ear organ, have you considered the possibility that your dizziness could be linked to an undiagnosed physical problem with your neck? If so, then there may be a non-drug, non-surgical option that you’ve likely never heard of before called upper cervical care.

In brief, upper cervical care is a special division of chiropractic that focuses on the relationship between the vertebrae in the top of your neck - the C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis) - and your nerve system. Upper cervical care is a post-doctorate certification that requires years of additional study, and unlike other forms of general manipulation, there is no twisting or cracking the neck involved at all. The major difference is precision, and with the right level of precision, upper cervical care has a long record of being able to help people with many conditions, including dizziness.

In this article, I’d like to share with you the potential relationship between your neck health, dizziness, and how this unique approach may be able to help you enjoy the quality of life that you desire most.

Difference between dizziness and vertigo from the upper cervical perspective

From a symptomatic standpoint, vertigo is the sensation that the world is spinning uncontrollably around you. It can often accompany nausea, blurry vision, loss of balance, and also migraines. In contrast, dizziness is the sensation that you are spinning or unsteady even though the world is still. It is like being on a rocky boat, or getting off of a roller coaster or merry-go-round before you find your legs. The problem is that the sensation doesn’t go away, and you haven’t done anything foolish to cause it. It is unfortunate that many people who experience disequilibrium disorders can experience both vertigo and dizziness.

Unless you have experienced either of these sensations, it is difficult to describe how truly awful they feel. It is like something has hijacked the inside of your brain and is continuously pulling you off balance. And it takes a huge effort to prevent yourself from falling over, which can leave you utterly exhausted by the end of the day. From an upper cervical healthcare perspective, in our own practice, we have found that vertigo is often associated with a problem in the upper neck involving the C1 or C2 vertebra; and that dizziness is often associated with a problem in the middle neck involving the C3, C4 or C5 vertebra.

We do not know the exact reason, but based on the available research we believe that a problem at the top of the neck can affect blood flow to the brain, and therefore many produce feelings of vertigo; whereas a problem in the middle of the neck produces a muscular “twist” through the body that effectively causes the nerve receptors to “misfire,” thereby producing a sensation known as cervicogenic dizziness or dysequilibrium.


What are the causes and what can be done to combat them with chiropractic care?

These types of problems in the neck are caused by physical injuries: namely head, neck, or whiplash injuries that occurred at some point in the past. These are not always injuries with blood or broken bones. On the contrary, these are injuries that you’ve probably forgotten because you seemed to heal from them okay … but what if you only thought you got away with it?

Any injury that causes a shift in the normal position or range-of-flexibility for any of the vertebrae in your neck can heal in the wrong position. An average-sized vertebra in the neck or cervical spine moves approximately 1-2cm. Let’s err on the big side and say 2cm. Now let’s say that you experience an injury that shifts the vertebrae from their normal position 1-5mm. Let’s err again on the low side and say 1mm. So a 1mm displacement represents a 5% disruption from normal. As small as 5% can be, think of it in terms of interest in your house, car, or credit card. If you don’t pay the interest for 2, 5, 10, or 20 years, that “little” problem can build up a cause some very big problems!

The same is often true for neck injuries. A small problem compounded for 10-20 years can lead to degenerative arthritis, which affects the nerve receptors. Specifically, if the problem is dizziness, it is likely the joint mechanoreceptors and proprioceptors are affected. These are specialized nerve receptors that provide your brain with position-sense and balance information. These message communities directly with the same parts of your brain that are supplied from your inner ear.

In other words, a problem with nerve communication in your neck can produce the exact same dizzy or vertigo symptoms as if there is a problem with your inner ear or balance organ! The purpose then of upper cervical care is to identify these specific types of injuries or misalignments that are often overlooked as being “just arthritis” or “just getting older” that could actually be very significant with the development of dizziness conditions.

Then, but restoring normal alignment and movement through these joints as much as possible - and as precisely as possible without the need to twist or crack things! - an upper cervical chiropractor works to allow your body to do what it is designed to do: heal itself if just given the chance.

Who is at risk of developing dizziness?

If the neck is involved, people at greatest risk of developing dizziness are those who have experienced prior head, neck, or whiplash injuries. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, stress is also a major factor. However, remember that stress is often the trigger but not the sole underlying cause. Among the many forms of stress that are most commonly associated with the onset of dizziness are pre-menopause in women, pre-andropause in men (which is the same thing resulting in a reduction in testosterone) and sudden emotionally traumatic events (even if the logical part of your brain doesn’t perceive them as being traumatic).

In other words, it appears that hormones and the nerve system are involved with dizziness. Often, that cause of dizziness is blamed on stress or a virus. But you see, a virus can’t be readily seen! It is easy to put the blame on something if you can’t prove its existence. In other words, for all the different types of dizziness that can be named (e.g., Meniere’s disease, BPPV or benign positional vertigo, MdDS, or mal de debarquement syndrome, or vestibular neuritis, aka labyrinthitis), there is often a common underlying cause. Therefore, you can treat the symptoms, or you can work to address the underlying cause, and correct it as much as possible.


What are the symptoms that promote dizziness?

There can be a variety of symptoms that may promote or are linked with dizziness:

  • neck pain - including if you’ve ever tweaked your neck where you couldn’t turn it without pain
  • headaches or migraines
  • shoulder pain
  • “brain fog” or a feeling of cloudiness in the head
  • low back pain and radiating pains into the thighs
  • radiating pains into the hands
  • anxiety (presuming it is not heart or brain-related)
  • TMJ or jaw problems like pressure or teeth grinding (aka bruxism)
  • As we also described, stress and hormone fluctuations (especially if estrogen or testosterone are low) also appear to be triggers for dizziness.

How soon is too late to see an upper cervical chiropractic doctor?

When it comes to taking care of your neck, the only time it is too late is if you have vertebrae surgically fused. Even then, it is still possible to work on adjacent vertebrae provided that the tests that are performed first demonstrate that it is safe to do so. Admittedly, and especially when it comes to dizziness, it is often a long process. As we mentioned earlier, the majority of people that we see in our practice with dizziness have underlying conditions that have been there for 15-30 years before we ever see them. 

And they have a few layers of injury stacked on top of each other! In other words, it is seldom a “quick fix.” It typically takes months of work to begin to stabilize the condition to where there is relief from dizziness. It is definitely doable but dependent on many factors. I use the analogy of walking through a maze in the dark? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? No there isn’t, because we aren’t talking about a straight tunnel! A maze has turns and dead ends. It isn’t until you navigate the final turn of the maze that you see the light that was always there but has been hidden from sight for such a long time.

My experience working with people with dizziness is that we usually expect to see signs of forwarding progress within a few weeks, but indeed because the problems have been so long and twisted that it takes a while to reverse the momentum. Truth be told, if you experience dizziness, you probably know this to be true already. I mean, if it was a straight and simple solution, surely the first person you’d have seen for professional care would have been able to solve the problem. Right?

Can upper cervical chiropractic care help you get through it?

If you have been to the most common healthcare professionals including vestibular physiotherapists, ENTs, neurologists, etc but have not really experienced relief from your dizziness, you know that you have to do something different. Even if you have been to a general chiropractor, upper cervical-specific chiropractic care may be able to offer you a different approach.

Our office, Atlas Health, performs a series of precise physical, neurological and diagnostic imaging tests that we do all on-site in our office in Charleston. By getting the right information, we can identify the exact direction and degree of any misalignments n your neck, thereby providing you with a customized plan to helping you with your neck. In this way, we aren’t treating the symptoms of dizziness directly. These are only effects. Instead, we aim to address the underlying cause so that you may be able to find a long-term solution so that you can enjoy the quality of life that you desire most.

So, what is the most logical step?

Our office is happy to offer a complimentary 15-minute over-the-phone consultation with our principal upper cervical chiropractic doctor to discuss the particulars of your case and to ask any questions so that you can decide if care may be right for you. Our principal, Dr. Youngblood, is an advanced certified upper cervical chiropractor. He is a member of the Board for the Chiropractic Society, an international lecturer, author, and recognized leader in the field of upper cervical chiropractic care.

To schedule a no-obligation consultation with Dr. Youngblood, you can contact us direct at (843) 225 5855, or you can click the Contact Us for more information. It is our privilege to assist you to the best of our ability, and thank you for trusting us with something so important as your health and wellbeing.