A Closer Look at Vertigo and a Promising Approach to Care

November 26, 2017

Understanding the Origins of Vertigo

The body relies on input from multiple sources to essentially relay to the brain how your body is balanced and positioned in space. The inner ear contains structures that allow the body to sense motion and position. These structures are the semicircular canals, the saccule, and the utricle. Information gathered from these structures then travels over the vestibulocochlear nerve (cranial nerve 8) to the brain. This information is processed by the brainstem which adjusts your posture to maintain a sense of balance.

Vertigo can have its origins in two areas – either peripheral (which is more common) or central. Peripheral vertigo arises because of a problem with the inner ear. Parts of your inner ear that play in important role in maintaining balance must be functioning correctly. There may be an issue with the vestibular labyrinth, the semicircular canals, or with the vestibular nerve that connects the inner ear with the brainstem. When one of these parts is not doing its job properly, peripheral vertigo can be the result.

Common Causes of Peripheral Vertigo

  • BPPV (benign positional paroxysmal vertigo)
  • Cervicogenic vertigo
  • Vestibular migraine
  • Mal de Debarquement syndrome (commonly called disembarkment syndrome)
  • Labyrinthitis
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Injury, particularly to the head or neck

Central vertigo involves the central nervous system. When central vertigo occurs, it is due to a problem with the brain, brainstem, or cerebellum.

Common Causes of Central Vertigo

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Migraine
  • Blood vessel disease
  • Certain medications such as aspirin and anticonvulsants
  • Alcohol
  • Tumors (either cancerous or benign)

Vertigo and your Neck

It is no coincidence that many vertigo sufferers have neck pain or have had some kind of head or neck injury at some point in their past. The top bones in the neck are frequently found to be misaligned in patients who suffer from vertigo. It may not seem to be the case, but the upper part of your spine in your neck actually sits in very close proximity to the eustachian tube and inner ear. Additionally, it is the job of the uppermost vertebrae in your spine to protect the brainstem, which is crucial for normal vestibular function. If any of these components are compromised, it can influence how the inner ear can drain and how the brainstem receives signals concerning proper balance via the vestibular nerve. This can lead to vertigo as well as tinnitus (ringing in the ear), pressure in the ear, or even loss of hearing.

The reason this part of your neck can be so vulnerable to misaligning is due to how the bones are shaped. This area of your spine is designed quite differently than the rest because it has a unique function – it is responsible for our ability to move our heads around so freely. The atlas and axis vertebrae can misalign following an accident or injury, or repetitive wear and tear over time can cause a misalignment as well.

Hope for Vertigo Sufferers: Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care

Upper cervical chiropractic care has been attracting the attention of more and more vertigo sufferers because of the results that people have been achieving. Upper cervical care is a different approach in that it focuses on correcting very specific misalignments of the uppermost vertebrae in the neck. This is of particular interest to vertigo sufferers because these are the vertebrae responsible for protecting the brainstem. The brainstem plays a critical role in your body’s ability to balance through constant postural corrections that take place. It acts as the processing center for signals traveling between the inner ear and the brain. When the upper cervical spine misaligns, it can negatively impact brainstem functions which can lead to the onset of vertigo and its associated symptoms.

In a research study that followed 60 vertigo patients through the course of their upper cervical chiropractic care, the results showed tremendous promise. The people involved in this study ranged in age between 12 and 73 years old and had suffered from vertigo from between 1 and 37 years. Of the 60 patients, 56 of them recalled some type of trauma to the head. These didn’t have to be spectacular injuries, some were as simple as a fall when skiing or a slip on the ice. Of the 60 vertigo cases, 100% (all of them!) experienced an improvement in their condition or were completely symptom-free. 48 out of the 60 (80%) experienced a complete disappearance of their vertigo.

As with the patients in this study, perhaps you’ve “tried everything” in order to find relief that is not merely temporary. Upper cervical care might be the next logical step in getting to the bottom of what is causing your vertigo episodes to persist. Our approach to care is very calculated and very gentle. Specific corrections are given only when necessary to restore normal upper cervical spinal alignment with the idea of allowing the brainstem to begin to function normally. Once we restore that connection between your inner ear and your brain, it is possible that your vertigo will improve significantly or even disappear entirely.


Elster E, Sixty Patients With Chronic Vertigo Undergoing Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care to Correct Vertebral Subluxation: A Retrospective Analysis. J Vert Sublux Res 2006; Nov 8:1-9.

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