Cervical vertigo, a condition combining neck pain and dizziness, is an intricate disorder that many people grapple with, yet few can fully comprehend. But worry not! In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at this condition, understanding its causes, symptoms, and the crucial relationship between neck discomfort and the sensation of dizziness.
Through a clear and practical exploration, we aim to provide a better understanding of this condition and offer insights into potential remedies and coping strategies for those affected by it.
What to Know About Cervicogenic Dizziness (Cervical Vertigo)?
Cervicogenic dizziness, often referred to as cervical vertigo, is a condition that can be particularly disorienting and unsettling for those who experience it.
But what exactly can you expect if you have cervical vertigo?
- Neck Pain as an Initial Sign: Cervical vertigo typically kicks off with neck discomfort ranging from a persistent ache to sporadic, sharp pains. It’s often centred in the neck but can also spread to your shoulders and upper cervical spine. This neck pain is an early warning sign before the onset of the dizziness associated with cervical vertigo.
- Episodes of Dizziness: The key feature of cervical vertigo is a recurring feeling of dizziness or imbalance. These episodes can differ in their strength, duration, and frequency. You might feel wobbly, unsteady, or like your surroundings are spinning. Certain head movements or positions can trigger or worsen this cervical dizziness, making simple actions like turning your head or tilting it up and down rather challenging.
Understanding the Mechanism: Cervical vertigo’s connection to neck or cervical pain and dizziness lies in the complex web of nerves, blood vessels, and cervical spine structures. The misalignment, compression, or irritation of these structures can send confusing signals to your brain, leading to the perception of cervical dizziness. The exact mechanism may vary from person to person, but the common thread is the interplay between the neck and inner ear.
What Is the Cervical Spine?
The cervical spine, or in simpler terms, your neck, is a crucial component of the human vertebral column. It’s made up of seven distinct vertebrae known as C1 through C7. This part of your spine kicks off at the base of your skull and gracefully extends down to your upper back. Now, what makes the cervical spine truly remarkable is the range of vital roles it plays in our bodies, including:
- Support and Flexibility: Your cervical spine isn’t just there to hold your head up; it’s also responsible for allowing your neck to move in various directions. This means you can easily turn, tilt, and nod your head.
- Protection: Among its many jobs, your cervical spine is like a fortress guarding the spinal cord, a critical component of your central nervous system. It forms a protective canal that shields the spinal cord from harm.
- Nerve Pathways: Inside the cervical spine, you’ll find a network of nerves branching out to different body parts. These nerves are the messengers that transmit sensory information and control motor functions in your upper limbs, neck, and even some facial muscles.
Understanding the cervical spine is the first step to comprehend the connection between vertigo and neck pain.
What is the link between vertigo and neck pain?
The connection between vertigo and neck discomfort, sometimes called cervical vertigo or cervicogenic dizziness, is rooted in the intricate network of nerves, blood vessels, and structures within the cervical spine. Here’s how it all comes together:
- Proprioception and the Vestibular System: The cervical spine is a key player in our body’s proprioceptive system, which is all about understanding where our body is and how it’s moving. This information is essential for keeping our balance and stability. Your neck houses a wealth of sensory receptors that constantly communicate with your brain about the position of your head.
- Jumbled Signals: When the cervical spine encounters issues like muscle tension, misalignment, herniated discs, or arthritis, it can send mixed-up or conflicting messages to your brain. These distorted signals can mess with your body’s sense of balance and spatial awareness.
- Feeling Dizzy: Thanks to these jumbled signals, your brain might interpret this confusion as dizziness or vertigo. This feeling can range from unsteadiness to full-on spinning sensations, even when there’s no problem with your inner ear or vestibular system, which are usually the culprits in classic vertigo.
What Causes Cervical Vertigo?
Cervical vertigo is quite a complex condition with a range of potential culprits. It’s essential to remember that the exact cause can differ from one person to another. Some common factors that might play a role in causing cervical vertigo include:
- Cervical Spondylosis: This degenerative condition arises from the wear and tear of the cervical spine. It can lead to structural changes in the neck, like bone spurs, potentially impacting nerves and blood vessels, ultimately causing cervical vertigo.
- Cervical herniated discs: When the soft discs between the cervical vertebrae bulge or herniate, they can exert pressure on the nerves and blood vessels, resulting in dizziness and neck discomfort.
- Cervical Muscle Tension: Muscle tension and spasms in the neck can disrupt the regular operation of the cervical spine, leading to a sensation of dizziness.
- Cervical Trauma: A history of neck injuries or trauma can disturb the delicate balance of the cervical spine, triggering vertigo.
- Arthritis: Conditions like cervical osteoarthritis can compromise the integrity of the cervical spine, potentially causing vertigo symptoms.
How to Diagnose Cervical Vertigo?
- Medical History: Your healthcare provider will start by delving into your medical history, including any prior neck or severe cervical spine injury or conditions and your symptoms.
- Physical Examination: A physical exam will assess your neck’s mobility, muscle tension, and possible trigger points. This can help pinpoint issues related to the cervical spine.
- Imaging Studies: X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans of the cervical spine may be ordered to uncover structural abnormalities, like herniated discs or arthritis.
- Vestibular Testing: Tests that evaluate inner ear function, such as electronystagmography (ENG) or videonystagmography (VNG), are often performed to rule out classic peripheral vestibular disorders.
- Cervical Provocation Tests: Specialised tests, like cervical relocation and neck torsion tests, can replicate dizziness symptoms with specific neck movements. During the cervical neck torsion test, you’ll be asked to perform controlled head and neck movements to determine if they provoke dizziness.
What is the difference between vertigo and cervical vertigo?
In its classic form, vertigo is a spinning or whirling sensation, often accompanied by nausea and balance problems. It’s typically linked to inner ear or vestibular disorders. On the other hand, cervical vertigo is a form of dizziness resulting from problems in the cervical spine, which can lead to unsteadiness or spinning sensations without any inner ear problems.
The key difference lies in where the symptoms originate. While regular vertigo is linked to inner ear disorders like benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) or Meniere’s disease, cervical vertigo is rooted in the cervical spine, with associated neck pain and disrupted proprioceptive signals triggering dizziness.
Symptoms that may indicate Cervicogenic Dizziness
Here are some signs that might signal you’re dealing with cervicogenic dizziness:
- Neck Pain: A common telltale sign is persistent or on-and-off neck discomfort, typically concentrated in the back of the neck or shoulders.
- Dizziness: There can be moments when you feel dizzy or unsteady. The intensity can vary from mild to quite severe.
- Headaches: Sometimes, headaches, particularly at the base of your skull or in your temples, could accompany cervicogenic dizziness.
- Tinnitus: Ringing in the ears, which is also known as tinnitus, can be connected to cervical vertigo.
- Imbalance: You might feel like you’re off-balance, unsteady, or even sense that the world around you is moving or spinning during episodes of dizziness.
- Limited Range of Motion: People with cervical vertigo might find that their neck doesn’t move as freely as it should. Certain head positions or movement could set off dizziness.
- Shoulder and Upper Back Pain: Pain in your shoulders or upper back, often radiating from your neck, could be a companion to cervical vertigo.
- Pain Triggered by Movement: Abrupt or extreme neck movements, in particular, can worsen your symptoms. This can result in more dizziness and discomfort.
Spine Conditions That Can Cause Cervical Vertigo
Cervical vertigo can be attributed to several underlying spine conditions. Here are some spine conditions that are known to contribute to cervical vertigo:
Picture this – a sudden and forceful jolt to your neck that can occur during car accidents, sports mishaps, or even falls. This is what we call a whiplash injury. It can be a real troublemaker, causing harm to the ligaments, neck muscles, and joints in your cervical spine, resulting in pain and instability. Whiplash injury can mess with the signals your neck sends to your brain, causing dizziness and that unsteady feeling characteristic of cervical vertigo.
Cervical spondylosis, also known as cervical osteoarthritis, is a degenerative condition that affects your cervical spine. Think of it as wear and tear in your neck’s vertebrae and discs. This wear and tear can lead to the formation of bone spurs and a narrowing of the spinal canal. These structural changes can put pressure on the nerves or blood vessels in your neck, potentially resulting in dizziness and cervical neck pain.
A Herniated Disc
Imagine a bulging or herniated disc in your cervical spine – it can squeeze nearby nerves or blood vessels. This squeezing can disrupt the body’s sense of where your head is in space, causing dizziness. You might notice this cervical spine pain, particularly when you move your head in certain ways or hold certain positions.
Now, let’s talk about the importance of standing tall! Chronic poor posture, like leaning forward or slouching all the time, can seriously stress your cervical spine. Over time, this stress can lead to muscle tension, misalignment of your vertebrae, and, you guessed it, discomfort in the neck. And yes, this discomfort can also be a contributing factor to cervical vertigo. So, remember to mind your posture for your neck and balance.
Treatment for Cervicogenic Dizziness
When dealing with cervicogenic dizziness, the primary focus is addressing the root issues in the cervical spine causing troublesome symptoms. How we tackle it can vary based on what’s causing the problem, how severe it is, and your individual factors. So, let’s dive into some common options for treating cervicogenic dizziness:
Physical therapy often plays a vital role in managing cervicogenic dizziness. A skilled physical therapist can create a tailored exercise program to boost your neck’s strength, flexibility, and posture. They’ll also improve proprioception, which is your sense of body position.
Their bag of tricks may include manual therapy, therapeutic exercises, and the help you need to correct your posture.
In some cases, your doctor might prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation in your cervical spine. Muscle relaxants can also be on the menu to ease muscle spasms and neck tension.
Sometimes, it is recommended to wear a soft cervical collar. It limits movement in your neck and helps reduce stress on your cervical spine while it’s healing.
Chiropractic or osteopathic adjustments can address misalignments or subluxations in your cervical spine. But make sure these adjustments are done by qualified practitioners.
Ergonomics and Posture Training
Learning about good ergonomics and posture is super important. It can help prevent those nasty symptoms from worsening and keep your cervical spine in tip-top shape.
Surgery (In Rare Situations)
Surgery might be on the table when other treatments don’t cut it, and there’s structural damage in your cervical spine that needs fixing. But remember, this is a last-resort option and not something taken lightly.
So, those are the options you and your healthcare team can consider in the battle against cervicogenic dizziness. It’s all about finding what works best for you and your unique situation.
The Best Neck Exercises For Vertigo
The Brandt-Daroff Routine:
- Begin by sitting on the edge of your bed or a chair.
- Swiftly lie down on one side, angling your head at 45 degrees to the floor, and point your nose upwards.
- Hold this pose for half a minute.
- Return to a seated position and take a 30-second breather. Then, repeat the same on the opposite side.
- Shoot for three rounds of this exercise every day.
The Neck Turn
- Whether you’re sitting or standing, maintain an upright posture.
- Gently turn your head to the right, bringing your chin close to your shoulder. Stay in this position for half a minute.
- Get your head back to the centre and relax for another half-minute.
- Now, repeat the exercise, but this time, turn your head to the left.
- Aim to complete three sets on each side.
The Head Tilt
- Again, be seated or stand tall with your head in a neutral position.
- Gradually tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Return your head to a neutral position and rest for 30 seconds.
- Now, replicate the exercise, tilting your head to the other side.
- Strive for three sets on each side.
Disclaimer – It is best to consult a doctor before starting off with any exercise routine for your pain conditions
Quick Tips for Exercising with Neck Pain and Dizziness
Exercising when dealing with dizziness and neck pain can be a real challenge, but fear not! These handy tips will ensure a safe and effective workout:
- Consult a Healthcare Pro: Always, always check in with a healthcare professional before kicking off any exercise routine, especially if you’re battling severe neck pain or dizziness. They’ll ensure the exercises suit your unique situation.
- Take It Easy at First: Start off with gentle, controlled movements. As your neck gets more conditioned, gradually ramp up the intensity and range of motion.
- Mind Your Posture: Keep a keen eye on your posture during your workout. It’s vital to keep your neck and spine in a neutral position to prevent any added strain.
- Stay Hydrated: Don’t forget to stay well-hydrated. Proper hydration is your pal, helping to keep your muscles in check and reducing the risk of cramps and spasms.
- Breathe Easy: Practise mindful, deep breathing to foster relaxation and release tension in your neck and upper back.
- Use Supportive Gear: If your healthcare provider gives the green light, consider using supportive equipment like cervical collars or cushions during your exercises.
- Listen to Your Body: Pay close attention to how your body reacts to the exercises. If you feel more pain, dizziness, or discomfort, hit the pause button and consult your healthcare pro.
- Stay Consistent: Consistency is the name of the game when it comes to reaping the rewards of these neck exercises. Stick to your routine, but always be mindful of your body’s limits.
BPPV vs Cervicogenic Dizziness: How to identify?
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) and Cervicogenic Dizziness are two distinct conditions that share similar symptoms, making it crucial to distinguish between them.
BPPV primarily arises from issues in the inner ear’s balance system. It often presents as brief, intense episodes of vertigo triggered by specific head movements, like rolling over in bed or tilting the head. Accompanying symptoms may include nystagmus (involuntary eye movements) and nausea. BPPV is usually diagnosed through positional testing by a healthcare professional.
On the other hand, Cervicogenic Dizziness results from neck-related issues, such as muscle tension, joint dysfunction, or nerve irritation. Its symptoms encompass dizziness or lightheadedness, often accompanied by neck pain or stiffness. The key differentiator is that Cervicogenic Dizziness typically occurs with neck movement or certain head positions. Imaging and manual spinal examination can aid in the diagnosis.
If you experience persistent dizziness or related symptoms, seeking medical evaluation is essential for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, as the management for each condition differs significantly.
Where to Go If You Suspect Cervical Vertigo?
If you suspect that you might be going through symptoms of cervical vertigo, it’s really important to reach out to a healthcare expert as soon as you can. The first step is to make an appointment with your primary care doctor or a specialist who deals with ear, nose, and throat (ENT) issues.
They’ll get you a thorough checkup, which includes going over your medical history, a physical examination, and maybe suggest some tests like scans or balance assessments. In certain situations, they might send you to a neurologist or a physical therapist for further evaluation and personalised treatment options.
As this condition often shows symptoms that are similar to other health problems, seeking professional medical advice becomes imperative. It confirms what’s going on and ensures you get the right treatment and advice. This helps in making changes to your lifestyle and improving your daily life.
In summary, dealing with cervical vertigo is a complex condition. It combines neck discomfort with episodes of dizziness and can be quite a tough and disruptive experience. If you suspect you might be dealing with cervical vertigo, the first step you should take is to seek professional medical guidance.
At the Nivaan Pain Management Clinic, we truly comprehend how chronic neck pain can seriously affect your life. Our dedicated team of professionals is unwavering in delivering personalised, effective solutions to help you regain control over your well-being. Your health and comfort are our utmost priorities.
So, if you grapple with neck pain or related issues, book an appointment with Nivaan for a pain-free journey towards a balanced life.