Cervical vertigo, or cervicogenic dizziness, is a neck-related sensation in which a person feels like either they’re spinning or the world around them is spinning. Poor neck posture, neck disorders, or trauma to the cervical spine cause this condition. Cervical vertigo often results from a head injury that disrupts head and neck alignment, or whiplash.
This dizziness most often occurs after moving your neck, and can also affect your sense of balance and concentration.
There are a number of potential causes of cervical vertigo, though this condition is still being researched. Blockage of arteries in the neck from hardening (atherosclerosis) or tearing of these arteries (dissection) are causes. The dizziness is caused in these cases by a disruption of blood flow to the inner ear or to a lower brain region called the brain stem. Arthritis, surgery, and trauma to the neck can also block blood flow to these important regions, resulting in this type of vertigo.
Cervical spondylosis (advanced neck osteoarthritis) may be another potential cause of neck-related dizziness. This condition causes your vertebrae and neck disks to wear and tear over time. This is called degeneration, and it can put pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves and block blood flow to the brain and inner ear. A slipped disk alone (herniated) can do the same thing without any spondylosis.
The muscles and joints in your neck have receptors that send signals about head movement and orientation to the brain and vestibular apparatus — or parts of the inner ear responsible for balance. This system also works with a larger network in the body to maintain balance and muscle coordination. When this system works improperly, receptors can’t communicate to the brain and cause dizziness and other sensory dysfunctions.
Cervical vertigo is associated with dizziness from sudden neck movement, specifically from turning your head. Other symptoms of this condition include:
- ear pain or ringing
- neck pain
- loss of balance while walking, sitting, or standing
- problems concentrating
Dizziness from cervical vertigo can last minutes or hours. If neck pain decreases, the dizziness may also begin to subside. Symptoms may worsen after exercise, rapid movement and sometimes sneezing.
Diagnosing cervical vertigo can be difficult. Doctors will have to eliminate other potential causes of cervical vertigo with similar symptoms, including:
- benign positional vertigo
- central vertigo, which can be due to stroke, tumors, or multiple sclerosis
- psychogenic vertigo
- inner ear diseases, such as vestibular neuronitis
Once other causes and conditions are ruled out, doctors will perform a physical examination that requires turning your head. If there is sporadic eye movement (nystagmus) based on head positioning, you may have cervical vertigo.
Additional tests to confirm this diagnosis may include:
- MRI scan of the neck
- magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
- vertebral Doppler ultrasound
- vertebral angiography
- flexion-extension X-ray of the cervical spine
- evoked potential tests, which measure spinal cord and brain pathways in the nervous system
Treating cervical vertigo depends on treating the underlying cause. If you’re experiencing neck pain or have a degenerative neck disease, follow your medical treatment plan to decrease vertigo symptoms.
Doctors may also prescribe medication to reduce neck tightness, dizziness, and pain symptoms. Common medications prescribed include:
- muscle relaxants such as tizanidine and cyclobenzaprine
- analgesics, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or tramadol
- anti-dizziness drugs, such as Antivert or scopolamine
Doctors also recommend physical therapy to improve your neck’s range of motion and your balance. Stretching techniques, therapy, and training on proper posture and use of your neck help to improve this condition. In some cases, where there is no risk to the patient, chiropractic manipulation of your neck and spine and heat compresses may decrease symptoms.
Cervical vertigo is a treatable condition. Without proper medical guidance, your symptoms could get worse. Self-diagnosis is not recommended since this condition can mimic more serious diseases.
If you begin to experience dizziness, neck pain, and other related symptoms, visit your doctor immediately.