Written by Dr. Jean-Philippe Mercier from Premier Chiropractic
Let’s explore a scenario.
The ligaments and muscles of Joe’s neck were injured by, say, a whiplash from a fall or a car accident. Their function to maintain the integrity of the spine is therefore weakened and altered. The spine is then more likely to shift from its stable center of gravity to an unstable one. A head position abnormality like a head tilt can then be observed when looking at Joe. This in turn forces his eyes away from their normal focus on the horizon and they compensate by rolling or pitching up. Joe’s ears are in the meantime sending a status of unleveling to his brain. Sustain that three-way mismatch long enough, with the degenerating contribution of an inadequate neck structure and it is easy to see where Joe would be more susceptible to dizziness symptoms.
Why is that mismatch significant?
Proprioception is by definition the awareness of the position and movement of the body in space. At all times, the brain receives proprioceptive information mainly from three major systems to help orient the body: the semicircular canals in the inner ear, the visual system controlled by the brain and the mechanoreceptors, or sensors, in our spinal joints, extremity joints and muscles. When those three systems are properly coordinated, our movements are more precise and controlled. The brain receives proper information about the positioning and movements of the body; all is well.
What if one of the three systems goes away, as in what if eyes were to be closed? As long as the other two means of receiving movement information provide adequate amounts of feedback to the brain, we are still golden. Ever walked into a dark room without immediately falling forward and/or banging your toes on furniture? That was your proprioceptive system at its finest.
Computation errors sometimes painfully happen (yep, that pinky toe is going to be bruised for a bit). Other mismatching events can be a bit more subtle. Before getting back to Joe’s situation, let’s explore another example.
With car sickness, our eyes are often-times focused on a book or a smartphone, an immobile target, but our inner ears are perceiving the car is being in movement. Proprioceptive dissonance or mismatch occurs, and we get a bit nauseous or in most severe cases, dizzy. Lifting our head up and looking ahead will often help because what the eyes see and what the inner ears perceive matches again. As for Joe, the source of the mismatch is his neck.
A dysfunction affecting any or more of the systems responsible for proprioception can contribute to symptoms of dizziness to a varying degree, in any combination of degrees of involvement between the inner ear, eyes and mechanoreception, specifically from the neck. Beyond the Epley’s maneuvers, which works well if the error is from the inner ear, or the medications to diminish the severity of the oftentimes debilitating symptoms, the potential contribution of the neck in dizziness is often downplayed or misunderstood.
Shifting of the neck segments has been shown to cause dizziness and can be assessed through a comprehensive structural examination of the spine. A history of chronic neck pain accompanying dizziness is also a good indicator of a lack of spinal structural integrity contributing to the dizziness. An analysis of the position of the head in relation to the neck and trunk, as well as alignment of the various spinal segments in relation to each other can tell us a great deal on if a primary condition in the neck is causing dizziness. A chiropractor who focuses on detecting those abnormalities can be sought out for gentle restructuration of the head and neck to their normal center of gravity, allowing for neural mismatch to be corrected.
Dr. Jean-Philippe Mercier is co-owner with his wife Dr. Genevieve of the Neuro-Spinal Corrective chiropractic clinic Premier Chiropractic, located in Emmaus, PA. Together, they provide a comprehensive solution to resolving problems related to abnormalities in the spine and nervous system to allow your body to work at its highest capacity.
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