Does it ever seem that when your neck hurts, you end up feeling dizzy as well? Or does it seem that certain movements or postures of the neck make you feel dizzy?
If so, it is possible that your neck is contributing to your dizziness. Studies have shown that dizziness can affect 20 to 30% of the population, and there are a lot of potential causes including disorders of the cardiovascular, neurological or vestibular systems.
Another potential cause is cervicogenic dizziness - imbalance or dizziness that arises from the neck. As a standalone cause of dizziness, cervicogenic dizziness is controversial. However, more research is being done in this area, furthering our understanding of how the body’s different systems interact.
We know that proprioceptive input from the neck helps coordinate eye movement, body posture and balance. Moreover, studies have shown that an anesthetic injection of the nerves in the upper neck can produce dizziness and nystagmus (involuntary eye movement produced by the part of the brain responsible for processing information about head movement).
It has also been shown that electrical stimulation of the cervical muscles can induce the sensation of tilting or falling, so we can say we certainty that an anatomical connection exists.
How do I know whether I have cervicogenic dizziness?
Firstly, it is important to rule out other causes of dizziness, so it is highly recommended that you consult your family doctor or a physiotherapist who is trained in vestibular rehabilitation. Cervicogenic dizziness can be difficult to diagnose because there are no definitive diagnostic tests to confirm it. However, the following findings are suggestive of cervicogenic dizziness:
- Dizziness which is worse with certain head movements or after maintaining one position for a long time (such as sitting at a computer);
- Dizziness which gets worse during or after an episode of neck pain and decreases with interventions that decrease neck pain;
- Episodes of dizziness that last minutes to hours;
- Dizziness that started around the time of a neck injury;
- Previous neck pathologies.
A healthcare professional may explore the neck as a possible contributor to dizziness by performing a maneuver called the “Neck Torsion Nystagmus Test” where the head is stabilized by the therapist and the body rotated underneath. A positive test will reproduce or increase the symptoms and possibly generate nystagmus.
A vestibular therapist may also evaluate your awareness and control of neck position and movement by having you wear a laser headlamp.
What should I do?
Studies have shown that manual therapy is an effective treatment for cervicogenic dizziness. Balance, gaze stability and eye movement exercises are also likely to be helpful, but more research is needed.
Ultimately, any treatment that is helpful for neck pain, such as mobilizations, heat, postural correction, stretches or acupuncture, would most likely help with dizziness as well.
A common cause of neck discomfort is sitting for long periods of time in a slouched posture with the head forward, such as when texting or looking at a computer or television. It is recommended that you pay close attention to your posture if you have dizziness that you think may be related to your neck.