Have you ever been dizzy before? Maybe you went from laying down to standing up too fast, and the room starts to spin until you can get a hold of things. Maybe you were like me and you played football in high school; you get your bell rung a few too many times, you get up, then get your bearings before you can go back. Maybe you have vertigo, and you wake up in the middle of the night with the room spinning and spinning and spinning until it finally stops. My name is Dr. Zach Shaw, and I am with the Upper Cervical Spine Center. We see dizziness and vertigo a significant amount in our office, so why do our patients who experience these symptoms get great results with our care?
The main reason being the upper cervical spine, or the top two bones in your neck, house what is called the brainstem. The brainstem is the connector between your brain and the rest of your body. It is like our relay center. Sometimes we call it Houston Control for all you space aeronauts out there. The brainstem holds 10 out of 12 cranial nerves. If you have read previous blogs of mine, you will see that these cranial nerves innervate the face, eyes, ears, and everything else up into our head, and it all comes from the top of the neck. How does this affect dizziness? First, we must talk about balance because essentially dizziness, or vertigo, is a lack of balance. Where does balance come from in our body? Balance comes from three things: our eyes, ears, and mechanoreceptors. Mechanoreceptors are little cells in the muscle that basically tell us where we are in space, while causing certain muscles to contract or relax for us to stay balanced.
All three of these things play a role, and all three of them start at the top of the neck. Let us think about a real-world scenario. You are deep sea fishing, or maybe you are just on a boat out in the ocean. When you are on the boat, you are looking out on the horizon and everything looks flat. You see the horizon, nothing is moving. Maybe you can see some waves, but other than that, everything is still. However, we are bobbing up and down on those waves, so the eyes see the still horizon, but the ears (and fluid in the ears) are constantly up and down. In essence, eyes are still, ears are moving, and the brain does not know what to do.
Suddenly you get a little dizzy, then boom, you are seasick and wind up throwing up off the deck. The problem with this is that people with dizziness or vertigo are not even on a boat! Why is this happening? Why is it that you can get dizzy, but your eyes and your ears are still? This is where the nerve system comes in. If there is pressure on the brainstem due to a misalignment at the top of the neck, one of those nerves that are going up into the ears, or eyes, could be interfered with. Maybe it is interfering with the optic nerve, cutting off some of your visual clarity. Maybe the misalignment is cutting off the nerve input to the vestibulocochlear nerve. “Vestibulo” means balance and “cochlear” means hearing. If there is pressure on that “vestibulo” part, we are not going to be able to balance properly, and thus, we have dizziness or vertigo.
What about mechanoreceptors? When one of the top bones in the neck misaligns, forcing certain muscles to contract and others to relax, they stay contracted for a long period of time, causing the mechanoreceptors to get damaged. There is also something called the vestibular nucleus. Remember that vestibular means balance and the vestibular nucleus just so happens to be right in the heart of the brainstem. If the messages from these mechanoreceptors to the vestibular nucleus are interfered with, it just cannot function properly. If the balance center of our body is not functioning properly, does it make sense that we may experience dizziness and vertigo?
Another thing that can happen is that when the top bone in your neck misaligns, it forces your head to come out in front of you. When this happens, it causes a lack of proper curvature of the bones in the neck, resulting in a straight neck, or even a reverse-curve. This abnormal position starts to pull on the muscles in the neck, while also stressing the arteries going up into the head. Stress on these arteries causes a lack of blood flow to the brain. Does it make sense why this can cause dizziness and vertigo?
Now you know exactly how dizziness and vertigo happen, so how do we correct it? In our office, it is simple. All we do is find the misalignment at the top of the neck and correct it. This correction takes pressure off your nerve system, allowing your body to function better. With better function comes less symptoms, which is why our patients who experience dizziness and vertigo achieve great results. If you or a loved one suffer from dizziness, vertigo, Meniere's disease, or anything that has to do with the eyes, ears, or the mechanoreceptors in your neck, give our office a call. We are happy to do a consultation free of charge to see if it is an upper cervical issue that we can help you with. That number is (704) 588-5560. If you are not in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, give our office a call anyway. I promise we will find an upper cervical doctor as close to you as possible. If you suffer from dizziness or vertigo, let's get you into the office. I hope you learned something today. Take care.