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The One-Two Punch of Headaches and Dizziness

By the numbers, more than 50% of us will have either headaches or dizziness caused by neck issues sometime in our lives, and most of these attacks will be repeated.

So why are these two symptoms related? Because the system that goes haywire causes both. The control center that helps us achieve balance also provides normal nerve flow. If we interfere with the "head" nerves, the greater occipital, lesser occipital, and greater auricular, we get a dandy neurological headache. This is due to the rotation, and resulting compression to the base of the skull, of the first cervical vertebra (atlas) and/or the second cervical vertebra (axis). Naturally, all this is accompanied by a lot of muscle tension in the cervical spinal muscles that attach our necks to our head. This muscle tension interferes with the joint receptors, also called proprioceptors, that give information to the vestibular (balance) center in the brainstem about the position the head is in at any given time.

This balance center receives input from multiple sources including the eyes, feet, and neck. If the neck input is off because of tight muscles and misaligned vertebrae it gives false information about the position the head is in to the balance center. For example, the haywire information may tell the brain that the head is turned to the left when, in fact, it is turned to the right. This incorrect information conflicts with the information from the eyes that tell the brain that the head is turned to the right. That conflicting information gives us the sensation of dizziness, or vertigo. The vertigo in this situation is brought on or made worse by changes in head position, for example, when lying down or looking over your shoulder.

So how do we correct this mess that gives so many people headaches and/or dizziness that is persistent?

One, we reduce the tension in the neck muscles. Two, we manipulate the top two vertebrae so they sit straight. Three, we give exercises that allow the patient to pull these two vertebrae away from the skull so that the proprioceptor nerves are happy again.

Of course, these scary symptoms could be from a more serious condition such as an aneurism or tumor. That is why we screen for these problems in the office and rule them out before checking out the neck muscles and joints. If necessary we may order MRI or CT imaging if the condition is not clearly defined by examination, but that happens in less than 20% of the cases. Usually, these symptoms are just so disconcerting that people panic, and that is normally not called for. The Naprapathic manipulation and physiotherapy can gently reduce that nasty muscle tension and the Chiropractic manipulation can correct the atlas/axis misalignments. Then the corrective exercises can give the patient control in preventing a recurrence.

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