Vertigo is a feeling of motion when in fact nothing is moving. Learn about some of the causes and how chiropractic care can help.

What are the symptoms of vertigo and how is having vertigo different from just occasional dizziness?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: That’s a good question. It should probably start off with some definitions. I think almost everyone has had a feeling of unsteadiness or a whirling sensation in their heads at some point in their lives and they’ll usually chalk it up and say oh, it was a dizzy spell. Dizziness is really a very broad term that can mean different things to different people. Dizziness, in and of itself. has no specific medical meaning. There are four common conditions that can be considered types of dizziness.

The one that you asked about and one that is very common is vertigo. Vertigo is basically a feeling of motion when there is no motion, such as you feel like you’re spinning or your total world is spinning around you. When you were a little kid on the playground, if you spun around alot and then stopped suddenly, you can produce temporary vertigo. That happens in the normal course of living. When there’s different problems, particularly with the vestibular system, the balance apparatus in the middle ear, in the inner ear, that is really the body’s system of letting you know which way is up, which way is down and the senses that position your head. About half of all the dizziness complaints are actually termed vertigo.

Then there are other people who get light-headedness if you get up really quick or what they call syncope. That’s a feeling like you’re about to faint, which is not the same as vertigo. It’s commonly felt by people who stand up too quickly or breathing deeply enough times to produce the sensation. There is also disequilibrium, which is people who have trouble walking. You might have seen these people, they walk and they slide and keep listing off to one side.

There are a lot of differences but vertigo, most commonly (the question that you’re asking) is usually related to inner ear and the neural pathways of communication from the inner ear to the brain in maintaining balance.

What causes vertigo?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Vertigo, most commonly, is caused by an inner ear problem. What happens is there are these little calcium particles, called canaliths, they start to clump up in the canals of the inner ear. The inner ear generally sends signals to your brain and the head and the body about the movements as your body relates to gravity. These crystals can dam up or start to change the flow of the synovial – the fluids inside the ear – and that will cause pressure to build up. That is also commonly known as Meniere’s disease, where it’s an inner ear disorder, thinking that it’s caused by this build-up of fluid and changing of pressure in the ear. That can cause episodes of vertigo along with ringing in the ears which is commonly called tinnitus.

The inner ear problem can also be contributed to an infection. Very often, people will get viral infections in the inner ear which can cause inflammation in the inner ear around the nerves that are important for helping the body sense balance. If there is enough irritation to them, it creates this static-like situation in the nerve system and then people will get that association of their head spinning or the world is spinning around them. It can also be commonly linked back to head and neck injuries as well. Also, people who suffer migraines also can get symptoms of vertigo as well.

How does chiropractic care help alleviate the symptoms of vertigo?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: In people with vertigo, it’s really because their sense of balance is a complex interaction between your brain and the ear’s separate vestibular system. There are sensors in the muscles, there are sensors in our vision. When one component of this chain starts to break down, the other ones will start to compensate. Atlas, your C1 or first cervical vertebrae, is located at the very top of the cervical spine just under the skull. That tiny bone has two really important arteries that wrap around it and supply blood to the brain. If the Atlas is misaligned, it can put pressure on these arteries and that can result in lack of blood flow to the brain. Then, your whole body can be thrown off balance as your core tries to make up for the crooked neck or head position. Pressure on the brain stem can also result from Atlas misalignment and the combination of these undue stress and pressures on the nervous system can reduce the blood flow to the brain and create a host of symptoms including dizziness,vertigo are very common among them.

Once we re-align that Atlas bone back into the proper position, we restore adequate blood flow. We restore normal balance in the nerve system and remove that interference so the entire frame of the body regains its balance. That means an end to the vertigo and most of the discomfort that comes with it.

Are there any exercises or things that people can do at home to help cope with vertigo?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Absolutely. Vertigo, one of the things that the primary treatments for it is this simple series of exercises called the Epley maneuver, that’s spelled E-P-L-E-Y, if anyone wants to look that up. It’s basically a sequential movement of the head into four different positions, and staying in each position for roughly 30 seconds. The idea behind this Epley maneuver is to try and swirl up those crystals that are forming in the fluid in the inner ear, and get them to move, and restore normal flow. That usually handles that. I would say in most cases, the Epley maneuver can have close to a 70 or 80% success rate the first time it’s tried. Those are things that are really important to look at. Those are the most common exercises that people will look to do to affect vertigo.

Can having vertigo be a sign of something more serious?

Dr. Gregg Rubinstein: Absolutely. Anything that is causing pressure inside the head … Problems with your brain, tumors, strokes, certain medications can cause inner ear damage. There are all these different things that can lead to signs that there might be something more serious going on. That’s why it’s always important to do a proper examination and seek out a medical professional when you have vertigo, even though the episodes might pass and not have a big impact on your life. It could be the sign of something else. The things that are most concern to most doctors is really ruling out tumors or any other space-occupying lesion inside the head.

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