Mal de Débarquement Syndrome

Posted in Chiropractic on Sep 19, 2019

What is Mal de Debarquement Syndrome?

Can upper cervical adjustments help Mal de Debarquement Syndrome?

How frustrating has it been looking for answers if you have been diagnosed with Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS)? I remember YEARS AGO when I was first in practice, one my very first clients had been diagnosed with Mal de DeBarquement Syndrome. Prior to that, I had never heard of it either!

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It turns out it is way more common than I would have thought! So if you have been dealing with MdDS, I want to let you know first that you are not alone. I know it certainly feels lonely at times because on the outside you look normal … but on the inside, everything is a struggle.

And it isn’t exactly something you can push through either. Things like headaches and migraines, to a certain degree you can mentally block those out. But dizziness or vertigo as in MdDS is something completely different. It is impossible to ignore, and all-consuming when the symptoms are there.

To this day, I would be lying if I told you that I have discovered the cure or treatment for Mal de Debarquement Syndrome. It’s hard enough finding any MdDs specialist who understands the nature of the condition. Nevertheless, I do want to share with you some valuable things that I have learned over the years that have been able to help many people I have worked with who experience Mal de Debarquement syndrome. Because one thing I have learned is this: one of the keys to finding a solution for MdDS involves the proper alignment of the upper neck and the jaw.

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How to “read" common Mal de Debarquement Syndrome symptoms

The hallmark symptom of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome is dizziness or “rockiness” that happens when you upright and on are steady land … and paradoxically, the symptoms almost vanishes when you are on a moving object like a car or plane, or when you lie down.

So it’s not BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), which is believed to be triggered by crystals dislodged in the inner ear. And it’s not really any type of vertigo or Meniere’s disease either. MdDS is like a completely separate category altogether … but still, one that does not really match anything else!

From French, “mal” means “bad,” and “debarquement” means “to get off of something such as a boat. For many people, getting off of a moving object is what seems to trigger the problem, like motion sickness. Often, MdDS specialists say that the problem should go away on its own … but when the symptoms persist for weeks, months, or even years, that is a sign that there is something else going on.

The problem is that you can’t think of anything that triggered it!!

What is the cause of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

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For many people with Mal de Debarquement syndrome, that is one of the challenges with finding answers: if you knew what caused it, you would know exactly how to treat it! In my experience, MdDS is a “combination-lock” type of condition: i.e., there is more than one thing happening all at once, and it’s the combination of those things that causes the problem

It is a hypothesis, but it is my observation and belief that MdDS is a physical condition involving dysfunction of the body’s physical structure with emphasis on the neck, jaw, and sacrum (tailbone) pelvis and it’s resulting effect on the nervous system by disrupting the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). 

Bear with me here because it might get a little technical.

Your spinal cord is essentially a piece of string anchored at the base of your skull, the top two bones in your neck - the C1 vertebra (atlas), and the C2 vertebra (axis) - and your sacrum. If there is tension occurring at either end of the spectrum, it can disrupt the normal function of your nervous system, which controls and coordinate every function in your body.

Now, your brain will attempt to compensate for problems like this but changing your body’s posture. So posture is not a matter of laziness but is a reflection of what is happening to your nervous system beneath the surface. As these structural changes occur, it can have an effect on the normal flow of CSF, which circulates around your brain and spinal cord in order to provide oxygen and energy for your nerves.

However, long term changes may produce local disruptions of the normal currents or “eddies.” And if your central nervous system detects or feels this altered CSF flow pattern, it may feel like an internal, rocking movement that is pulling you sideways at random.

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Sound familiar?

Now, this is a hypothesis - and I would love to have more information to provide! - but I can say unequivocally that this cause of Mal de Barquement Syndrome is supported by the certain key finding that I have observed in almost 100% of people diagnosed or experiencing dizziness symptoms

What to do about Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

So what are the common things that I have observed with people diagnosed with Mal de Debarquement Syndrome:

  1. A head-neck + torso twist. Go look in the mirror and look at a few things BEFORE reading this next section. I want you to pay attention to the position of your heck and your head. Does your neck tilt to one side, and then does your head balance out by turning the opposite direction?

Also, pay attention to the position of your shoulders relative to your hip bone. In a neutral standing position, are they rotated in the same direction, or are they rotated in opposite directions?

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These posture distortions illustrate what is happening with your spinal cord, and these twists have been common observation for almost 100% of all people I have seen in my Brisbane upper cervical practice over the past 2 years (which is when I first noticed the pattern).

  1. A counter-tilt between the head, jaw, and pelvis. Without boring you with too much detail, the C2 vertebra in your neck, your jaw, and then your pelvic bones are all meant to be aligned in a certain orientation. If anyone of these places is affected - either compressed, irritated, misalignment, etc- your brain will make an appropriate compensation 

But what if you had more that one thing going on?

Or worse, what if those two things required that your body adapts in exactly opposite directions?!

You can imagine that if your brain is trying to make changes in two directions at the same time that would be enough to make your head spin … both metaphorically, but possibly also literally!

So if you are dealing with MdDS, I recommend that you have a look in the mirror for these particular things. (Alternatively, have someone take a picture of your standing posture from the front and back, and then send us a message so that we can have a look for you).

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Most common reasons adults have Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

So what can cause a breakdown in the system like this with MdDS? First, let me mention that the onset of your dizziness symptoms was most likely the tipping point - the trigger - but not the actual cause of your condition.

I use the analogy of scoring points in an AFL match. Let’s assume that the first team to 100 points wins. You can’t get 100 points from a single score, but enough points added up over a long period of time will get you there.

So too with conditions such as Mal de Debarquement Syndrome, the process may have been occurring for a long time without any symptoms at all!! And then, when you hit the 100 points threshold - voila - you can make a false conclusion that it was only that last point, that last thing that “caused” it.

When it comes to finding a solution for MdDS, it is important not to mix up cause and effect. The dizziness symptoms are the effects. The cause is something else. And if you want to correct the cause - not just treat the symptoms - it requires a deeper understanding. 

So if Mal de Debarquement Syndrome comes involves the neck, the type of thing that we are looking for is a physical injury. Not necessarily the things that cause broken bones, but the kind of things that cause little injuries that add up over a long period of time.

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Often, degenerative arthritis (aka spondylosissignifies the type of physical injury that we are talking about. it is because degenerative arthritis is not just a process of getting older. It represents the body’s intelligent compensation to physical stress. The problem is that it can only compensate for so long until something eventually gives.

General dizziness is known to be related to damage to nerve receptors in the lower part of the neck. However, just because a person has degenerative arthritis does not guarantee that they will also have Mal de Debarquement Syndrome.

Again, this is why I think of MdDs as a “combination lock” type of problem that involves more than one thing!

One way or another, it seems very likely that the neck - and old neck injury - is one of the pieces to the puzzle.

Most common reasons children have Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

When we consider the possible cause of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome - and that it may be the result of an old injury - we may have to go all the way back to childhood to find out what happened!

Any physical injury that affects the normal structure of a child’s body - and thus, how that child’s bone structure will develop as they grow up - has the potential to create problems years or even decades later.

Remember I mentioned the sacrum and pelvis as one possible link to MdDS? Well, let’s say that you break your right leg as a child, and it ends up being 2cm shorter than the other one. Your body will make certain adaptations to compensate. But then, imagine that later in life you get in a car accident and suffer whiplash.

Even if you don’t experience any immediate pain or dizziness, if you neck heals the wrong way without proper treatment, your brain will now have to make a series of compensations down through the rest of your body to keep your head balanced.

But what if these compensations are the exact opposite compensations that your body needed to make because of your leg.


So it’s not enough to just look at you and say that you have Mal de Debarquement Syndrome. We need to identify the story - the sequence of events that brought you to this point in your life - if you truly want to address the cause.

Here are some of the more significant things that we find with people diagnosed with MdDS:

  • Birth injury (e.g., breech, forceps deliveryetc), or some type of neck injury that happened at a very young age.
  • Facial injuries like getting hit in the head with a soccer ball or getting a major bruise on the head, usually from some type os sports injury
  • Concussion or other shoulder injuries that happen playing contact sports (e.g., football, rugby)
  • BRACES ON THE TEETH, if not done the right way, can also change the shape of a child’s jaw, which can cause major problems and even dizziness years later
  • Car accidents or whiplash injuries, which can cause a reverse-kink in the neck.

Probably, more than anything else that I have seen it is this reverse kink in the neck (called a cervical kyphosis) with degenerative arthritis I believe is a major predictor for dizziness either now or later in life.

It is so unfortunate that so many of these kinds of problems can be avoided … if only parents knew what the right treatment was back then! I mean, parents take their children to the dentist to make sure that their teeth don’t fall out of their mouths when they get older.

But why is it that so few people have a proper health checkup for their necks after they’ve had an injury. I mean, it’s only your spinal cord and brainstem! How important can they be, right? (FYI I’m being facetious).


Diagnostic for Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

So if you have been diagnosed with Mal de Barquement Syndrome, where does that leave you? And what would I recommend that you do?

As I’ve hinted already, there is no silver bullet tests that show MdDS. Typically, it is a diagnosis made when you describe dizziness that is worst when standing and goes away when you lie down or get in a moving vehicle AND when no one can find anything pathological going on.

But just because you don’t have a brain tumor does not mean that everything with your nervous system is WORKING right.

And the key may well have everything to do with the health of your neck.

So whether this is your first discovery of help for MdDS - or if you have been to the dizziness and vertigo specialists all over but can’t find any answers - let me ask you: who has specifically looked at the health of your neck, its relationship to your nervous system and its potential link to Mal de Debarquement Syndrome?

In order to do this, there are three types of tests that we perform at our Brisbane upper cervical health clinic. The first, I have already mentioned: it is looking at your posture to determine if you are twisted up and if the is affecting your spine and brainstem in any way.

The second is looking at your nervous system to determine if it is working properly. Often, people who experience MdDS experience other symptoms including depression, anxiety, headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), pressure or fullness in the head, difficulties with concentration or memory, migraines, muscle twitching, etc. Most likely these symptoms are connected if it turns out that you have an underlying problem that is affecting your nervous system.

The third test is taking the right type of advanced imaging in order to identify what you have going on. You see, standard CTs and MRIs are good for diagnosing things like brain tumors, broken bones, and arthritis. However, they are often done from pre-determined angles.

And because you are a unique human being with a unique bone and body structure, it is possible that a problem in your neck has gone undiagnosed because no one has been able to see it! In our clinic, we actually take out own 3D images to make sure that we get the information we need in order to help you the right way and without delay.


Upper cervical chiropractic treatment for Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

The approach that we use for helping people with Mal de Debarqument Syndrome is unlike anyone else currently in Brisbane. It is called upper cervical specific chiropractic. Rather than using spinal manipulation or neck cracking/twisting, we perform the above series of advanced tests to determine precise angles that we use to correct the alignment of the neck using very low force. 

I repeat no twisting or cracking.

Upper cervical care is a special division of chiropractic, researched, and developed in the USA that focuses on restoring the alignment of the top bones in the neck - the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2) - in order to remove interference from the nervous system. This interference can cause your body not to work properly and can manifest as a number of different health conditions: dizziness, vertigo, and things such as Mal de Debarqument Syndrome being the most common

So even though upper cervical chiropractic isn’t a direct treatment for MdDS, it is an approach to help improve the function of the body so that your body may be able to work better and heal the way that it is supposed to. And when that happens, many times the dizziness and vertigo can actually go away like you have been trying o do all this time.

So what we offer is a different approach to healthcare and helping people with dizziness. And at present, only are we the only North Lakes chiropractor, but we are still the only Brisbane chiropractor to provide this unique and powerful approach to restoring health and wellbeing.

I trust that you’ve found this article to be enlightening and valuable. Most of all, it is the hope that I want for you. Certainly, dizziness vertigo and things like Mal de Debarqument Syndrome are complex and challenging roads.

I do not have all the answers, and am always looking for more! But in that space, I have learned many things in my career that have been able to provide relief for people suffering Mal de Debarqument Syndrome by correcting the alignment in their neck.

And even if things aren’t always perfect, if it is the difference between being bed-bound and being able to enjoy your life again, I am happy to assist!

So please, feel free to reach out to us personally. If you or a loved one have any questions or would like to discuss care options, please give us a ring at 07 3188 9329 or send us an email, and one of our staff will get back with you. Our North Lakes chiropractic office is located along the Bruce highway to provide upper cervical chiropractic care for Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, and Queensland.

Take care of your neck and start living life again.



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