According to the dictionary, vertigo is a sensation of motion which is associated with various disorders and in which the individual or the individual’s surroundings seem to whirl dizzily. It is akin to spinning around in a circle for one minute then attempting to stand straight. This feeling can be crippling. Those with vertigo may frequently experience symptoms that affect their lives. For this reason, the medical world has been searching for an answer.
The Debate About Vertigo
The mechanism behind vertigo has been debated for years. The majority of researchers believe the condition is secondary to a disturbance within the vestibular system. This premise is rational since this system is responsible for maintaining balance and spatial orientation of the body. The focus has typically been to address the major players of the system, including the structures of the inner ear and the cerebellum. While they deservedly get a lot of attention, is it possible there are other culprits?
Research is growing in support of vertigo induced by neck dysfunction. Many believe that neck pathology could affect an important sensation for the body called proprioception – the body’s awareness of itself in space. For example, if someone closes their eyes they can still locate their left thumb with their right pointer finger. How? This is possible because your body is continuously supplying feedback to processing centers in the brain from joints, muscles, ligaments and more about its position in space. This is how proprioception works and the neck is responsible for supplying a lot of this information. The brain, particularly the cerebellum, is the most advanced computer on the planet. It is constantly receiving an astronomical amount of data from the body and responding within a second.
Neck Dysfunction & Vertigo
How does neck dysfunction contribute to vertigo then? When there is a reduction in neck movement due to pain or muscle spasticity, the cerebellum is not given all the information it needs for an adequate response. Without movement, there is less information available for the brain. When there is not enough information, the brain may become “confused” and an episode of vertigo could ensue. Also, input from the body can potentially be altered. Structural maladaptation, particularly in the craniocervical junction, can cause pathologic stress on the spinal cord via the dentate ligaments. This tension can impede the wiring of the body responsible for bringing position sense to the brain. Finally, another potential mechanism under research involves disturbance of the vasculature secondary to neck dysfunction. If cells of the brain are unable to receive adequate nutrition from the vessels of the body, they will not be able perform the tasks they are designed to complete. This can have deleterious effects.
Vertigo is not yet completely understood and it is possible there are many more compounding factors. The nervous system is a very complicated mesh of nerves that communicate data with the master controller of the body, the brain. There are many structures that supply the vestibular system and any broken link in the chain contributes to the malady. Fortunately, evidence continues to grow. As the mechanisms become clear, treatments will improve. A dizzying amount of information may be left to unravel, but with continued research a solution could be around the corner.