The work of Dr. Burcon and other specific upper cervical chiropractors who focus on the proper alignment of the head and nervous system gives hope for people suffering from dizziness, vertigo, Meniere's syndrome, and other balance disorders.
It is particularly valuable because by understanding the cause of dizziness or vertigo, we can provide care strategies that may be better than just having to depend on medication to get through the day. But does that mean it is always simple? No. Even if we understand the cause of dizziness, there are at least two major reasons that care strategies still require time and work to achieve the best possible results.
The Role of Gravity in the Cause of Dizziness and Vertigo
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The first is gravity and the perils of modern life. One of the most common things the people who suffer dizziness describe is that “things get worse when I stick their head forwards or lean down at certain angles.” Wrong, wrong, wrong! Every 2.5cm that your head sticks forwards from your shoulder, the stress on your neck and back doubles!
It is reported that every 2.5cm that you stick your head forwards, the effective weight of your head doubles. (1) Now, if you have a whiplash-injury already overloading the proprioceptors in your neck, then sticking your head forwards may cause the proprioceptors in your neck to fire like crazy. (2) And what have we already said about dizziness and vertigo if you overload the system the process the information?
Computer crash … or in the case of a living person, dizziness or vertigo! And so many things in modern society cause you to stick your head forwards: looking at a computer screen, texting … even sitting in a chair or in a car pushes your head forwards So one of the biggest challenges in helping people overcome conditions such as Meniere’s syndrome is overcoming the pull of gravity by strengthening your neck muscles.
The kicker is that this activity only works right when your joints are freely mobile. In my opinion, most people who suffer dizziness or vertigo need physiotherapy exercises to improve their condition … but for best results, they come after working with a specific chiropractor to make sure that your upper neck is free to move in the first place.
Of course, this is not always the case as many people achieve relief without care. Nevertheless, an upper cervical specific approach may be beneficial if you've already explored the common treatment methods but have not achieved the results that you are seeking.
The Role of Stress in the Cause of Dizziness and Vertigo
Your sympathetic nervous system controls the "flight or fight" response in your body. It also ties strongly into the neck, and when activating can exacerbate dizziness or vertigo. The second reason that things are not always simple when addressing dizziness or vertigo is because of something called your “sympathetic nervous system.” Your sympathetic is the branch of your nervous system that controls the “fight or flight mechanisms.” In other words, when you experience stress, these are the nerves that activate.
Overactivation of your sympathetic due to chronic stress is associated with a number of health conditions including high blood pressure, hormone disorders, and chronic fatigue syndrome. (I've written a few previous articles discussing conceptually how stress impacts your nervous system's ability to process information and also how we measure the activity of your sympathetic nerves
The reason these nerves are important in terms of Meniere’s syndrome is that the sympathetic nerves in your neck have been shown to disrupt normal proprioceptive function. In other words, more stress can lead to more proprioceptive dysfunction … and especially if you have suffered a neck injury with an already damaged or overloaded proprioceptive system can lead to additional dizziness or vertigo. (3) That is the reason why specialists advise you to avoid caffeine, salt, or alcohol if you suffer dizziness, vertigo, or Meniere’s syndrome.
It isn’t because these substances actually cause Meniere’s at all! Its because they increase the sympathetic activity in your body and may trigger an attack. What you must be aware of, even if you take caffeine, salt, and alcohol completely out of your diet, that only reduces your stress load.
It does not address the underlying condition, which is creating the problem in the first place. I have observed it for a long time personally that people who experience dizziness or vertigo are almost always worse when they experience stress.
Now, to expect you to remove all stress from your life is completely unrealistic. However, by explaining to you how stress may be contributing to the problem, it allows you the opportunity to coordinate your life in much healthier ways so that you are better able to adapt to stress when it happens.
- non-strenuous exercise
- Keeping your atlas aligned.
Yes, even the research demonstrates that the proper alignment of the upper neck may reduce stress and the overriding effects of the sympathetic nerves. (4) So yes, it may seem self-serving to continuously hammer-home the importance of head-neck alignment, but the reason I do so is to provide you as many vital strategies as I can so that you are able to manage dizziness or vertigo in the most sustainable, most positive ways possible.
Closing Comments on the Neurology and Cause of Dizziness and Vertigo
I hope this article helps you to connect a few of the dots about the circuitry of your brain, your neck, and how it relates to the potential cause of dizziness and vertigo. The cause of dizziness and vertigo is often complex involving the neck (cervical spine) and is aggravated by gravity and stress.
It is my experience that whatever form of dizziness/vertigo that you experience - whether Meniere’s syndrome, vestibular neuritis, BPPV, or cervicogenic vertigo - the underlying cause is often similar and does not involve pathology of the inner ear. It is always important to rule that out form the start.
So when the MRI report comes back as “clear,” then you know that the problem actually involves how your brain is processing balance and proprioceptive information … and huge amounts of that information comes from the receptors in your neck!
These receptors are sensitive to stress and physical injuries that you may not be able to fix through diet, exercise, or general manipulation alone.
The key then maybe that you need a more specific approach to identify and address the alignment and motion through your upper neck, which has a profound influence on the proprioceptive (balance) and sympathetic (stress) trafficking that may be contributing towards your imbalance.
So even if you think you’ve seen every therapist and specialist in town help your dizziness or vertigo, if you haven’t at least spoken with a specific upper cervical chiropractor, you may be missing out on something valuable that can make a massive positive difference for you.
- Cailliet R. Neck and Arm Pain (2nd Ed). FA Davis. 1981.
- Yang L, Yang C, Pang X, et al. Mechanoreceptors in diseased cervical intervertebral disc and vertigo. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2017 Apr 15;42(8):540-546.
- Ravn JH, Fuglsang R, Højland C, Hauvik M. The effect of the sympathetic nervous system on proprioception of the neck. Aalborg University. Project supervised by Deborah Falla and Shellie Boudreau. 2009. Date of submission: 1/5/2010.
- Win NN, Jorgensen AMS, Chen YS, Haneline MT. Effects of Upper and Lower Cervical Spinal Manipulative Therapy on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Variability in Volunteers and Patients With Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled, Cross-Over, Preliminary Study. J Chiropr Med. 2015;14(1):1-9. doi:10.1016/j.jcm.2014.12.005