Vestibular migraines despite the simplicity of their namesake are a relatively difficult condition to diagnose. If you have been told recently that you have vestibular migraines but have had doctors and specialists previously say that you may have BPPV (Benign Proxysmal Positional Vertigo), Meniere’s Disease, or Vestibular Neuritis (aka a virus in your inner ear), you may be wondering how all of these diagnoses can be so wrong. Well, it’s not because the diagnosis is wrong per se as the entire process of trying to name the condition.
To illustrate, there is a recent research report that just came out comparing the clinical signs and symptoms of Vestibular Migraines and comparing them with BPPV and Meniere’s disease. What the researchers found is that there is effectively ZERO difference between them, and they are probably not different conditions at all, but likely different manifestations of the same underlying problem. In other words, vestibular migraines have different effects, but there is a common underlying root cause.
But this is not a new discovery! A research report just a few years ago looked for similarities between Meniere’s Disease and cervicogenic vertigo and concluded the exact same thing: they are different manifestations of the same underlying disorder. These reports mirror what I’ve been saying for years that it isn’t the name of the condition that matters most. What matters most is what the underlying cause is so that you can resolve the cause and not just treat the effects with drugs or surgery.
Yet this remains the most common practice. The idea is that you need to get the “right” diagnosis so that you prescribe the “right treatment” (e.g., pharmaceutical cocktails, dietary changes, etc). What these reports are illustrating is that when it comes to vestibular migraines and many other types of balance-related conditions, this approach is actually 100% backward! That is why it can be so difficult for people experiencing vestibular migraines and why their condition seems to slip through the cracks so many times.
What do I do if I have Vestibular Migraines?
First, there is usually not a single answer when it comes to solving vestibular migraines. It is more likely to solve a puzzle with 2-3 different pieces. (Let’s face it: if solving vestibular migraines was just a single solution, you’d probably have been able to figure it out by now). In this article, what I want to do is explain a little more about the relationship between your upper neck is to your brainstem and how it can be related to vestibular migraines.
Especially if you are prone to neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, low back pain you may never have realised how these particular symptoms could be related to vestibular migraines. In our experience, they usually are. When it comes to the nerve sensory receptors in your neck, there are three general categories:
- pain receptors
- pressure receptors (which detect external movement)
- proprioceptors (which detect internal body position sense)
Pay attention that only one of these receptors is actually involved with physical pain. What this means is that you can have deep underlying problems happening, growing beneath the surface even if you don’t currently experience pain! In fact, the vast majority of sensory information that goes to your brain from your neck is not actually involved with pain at all but is related to proprioception.
Without getting too technical, pain and pressure sensation travel to your brain where it is processed in a sensory nerve centre known as the Spinal Trigeminal Nucleus, which receives information from your face, head, inside of your skull, and neck. The proprioceptive information, however, is transmitted to a wide variety of processing centres in your brain, which include the Cerebellum (balance and posture control) and vestibular nuclei, which collect and assimilate balance information also from your eyes and inner ear.
What this means is that balance information is not just a matter from your inner ear, but a large portion of the information comes from your neck. So is it any wonder if your brain MRI and CT scans have been “normal” and yet your still experience something like vestibular migraines? It could well be because the actual source of the problem is coming from somewhere else like your neck.
Now, here’s the thing. Your brain operates like a computer with certain processing power. Thus, if you should ever have a problem that affects the number of messages traveling to your brain which effectively overloads your circuity - similar to having a computer turn on all the programs all at once - it is first most likely going to overload the balance processing centres, but then, in turn, overload the pain processing centres.
And depending on the individual nature of each person’s neural circuity, this can cause the vast array of symptoms involved with baleen disorders including vestibular migraines: i.e., where you experience both vertigo and/or dizziness and well as headaches, beck pain, or a prodromal migraine (even if you don’t experience the classic pain associated with migraine). Although it can start to get real technical really quickly, I hope that this explanation clears up a few of the myths and questions you’ve had about vestibular migraines and how these things may relate to your own case.
So, what does this mean if you experience vestibular migraines? Well, amongst other things, it means that one of the most important places that you should look at is the health, alignment, and motion of your neck. And this brings us to …
The Atlas Treatment for People with Vestibular Migraines
… what are collectively known as the “Upper Cervical Specific” or “Atlas Treatments” for people with vestibular migraines. The Atlas is an aka for the top vertebra in your neck that supports the weight and position of your skull and is effectively the master gateway for all the processing information that connects your brain with the rest of your body.
Upper Cervical specific is a special division of chiropractic that is remarkably different from general spinal manipulation. Upper cervical was developed and researched in the USA as a novel approach to healthcare whereby focusing on the alignment of the atlas vertebra could accomplish major health improvements with the brain and with the entire rest of the body without any twisting, stretching, or cracking of the neck.
Atlas, Upper Cervical is still a relatively rare approach here in Australia. There are actually several upper cervical techniques including the NUCCA and Atlas Orthogonal methods. In our practice located in North Lakes (north Brisbane), our approach uses the Blair Technique, which in our opinion provides the greatest amount of individual detail for an accurate treatment plan and approach.
The Blair technique involves a series of focused physical and neurological tests plus a few specialised diagnostic images that allow us to see the structure and orientation of your upper neck in ways that general chiropractors, medical doctors, and specialists do not study. With this information, we are frequently able to employ an approach that is uniquely designed just for you that can address any misalignments in your upper neck in ways that no other profession does.
In principle, this approach allows us to restore the normal integrity, and thus neurological flow between the body and brain, which in turn allows the innate mechanisms of your own body to do what they are designed to do: heal from within naturally, and without drugs or surgery. Even if you have tried other approaches including physiotherapy or general chiropractic, the Blair technique, and upper cervical care offer a different approach to health and wellbeing.
If you or a loved one are looking for solutions for vestibular migraines, we hope that this article has been both informative and valuable, and offers you a potential solution so that you can get back to enjoying the quality of life that you want most. To schedule a no-obligation consultation to find out if the Blair Technique is right for you, contact our North Lakes (Brisbane) office at 07 3188 9329 or click the Contact Us link on this webpage.
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