The upper cervical area of the spine refers to the two vertebrae located at the top of the spine, directly underneath the head. C1 (known as Atlas,) along with C2 (known as Axis,) are chiefly responsible for the rotation and flexibility of the head and neck. Like the rest of the vertebrae, they are extremely vulnerable to injury and trauma. In some cases, patients may recall a specific trauma to the head or neck (such as a car accident or a blow to the head.) In other cases, patients may not be able to point to a specific injury after which vertigo became a problem. This is not unusual, since it may take months or years for vertigo to develop after head trauma.
Because so many nerves transmit through the upper cervical spine (to and from the brain,) trauma to this area results in problems to other parts of the body. This is where the relationship between the upper cervical area and vertigo becomes evident. If these vertebrae become displaced, even slightly, vertigo can occur. Unless the neck injury is addressed, the symptoms persist.
(Upper cervical) Chiropractic care involves correcting the position of these injured cervical vertebrae, particularly C1 and C2. Realigning these vertebrae may reduce or eliminate many types of vertigo.
There are several types of vertigo for which people seek upper cervical chiropractic treatment. Meniere’s disease is associated with an abnormal amount of fluid in the inner ear. This imbalance of fluids creates dizziness, as though a person is constantly spinning. It may also cause persistent ringing in the ear and hearing loss. Episodes of vertigo are usually intermittent, but can be very debilitating. Episodes may last anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours. During an attack, a person may feel very sleepy. They may be unable to work, drive, walk normally, or even carry on with regular daily activity.
Another type of vertigo, Disembarkment Syndrome, can strike a person after being on a boat or even an airplane. While some dizziness may be normal after a cruise or plane trip, this usually disappears within minutes or hours. In people with Disembarkment Syndrome, the symptoms persist for months or years afterwards. Sufferers are left with the sensation that they are constantly in motion: rocking, bouncing, and weaving. This makes it difficult to walk and stand. Like Meniere’s disease, Disembarkment Syndrome affects a person’s ability to work, drive and carry on normal activity.
Benign Positional Vertigo (BPV) is another common type of vertigo. In a normal ear, the semicircular canal contains fluid which, when disturbed by movement of the head, send signals to the brain that the head is moving. When someone has positional vertigo (BPV), it is believed that small particles in the inner ear become dislodged. The result is a faulty signal being sent to the brain, indicating that the head is moving when it is not. This causes episodes of dizziness or vertigo.
When these conditions occur as the result of irritation to the neck vertebrae caused by trauma, chiropractic care may be beneficial. Treatments are given to relieve the irritation by realigning the vertebrae back into their proper positions. Once this occurs, the vertigo may diminish or disappear entirely.
Read vertigo case studies and vertigo research published by Dr. Erin Elster, D.C., upper cervical chiropractor, in Boulder, Colorado, at www.erinelster.com. Vertigo research includes patients with Meniere’s disease, labyrinthitis, Benign Positional Vertigo, and Disembarkment Syndrome.