Spinal Stenosis and Dizziness

vertigo dizziness spinal stenosisThere are many possible causes of dizziness, including spinal stenosis, so what else should you be looking for if you suspect a spine problem is at the root of your symptoms?

Cervical vertigo is a condition where dizziness or a vertiginous feeling occurs when the neck adopts a certain posture. This may be when turning, raising or lowering the head, or when standing up, walking into a dark room, or even things such as:


  • Shaking the head
  • Skipping meals (due to low blood sugar)
  • When exercising
  • Coughing or sneezing

Symptoms of Cervical Spinal Stenosis and Vertigo

This may be accompanied by symptoms including loss of balance and unsteadiness, tinnitus (a ringing in the ears), or a sensation of fullness or pain in the ears, in addition to visual disturbances like a spot in the visual field, sudden loss of vision in one half of the visual field, and/or nystagmus when turning the torso but maintaining the position of the head. This last symptom is a clear indication of vestibular vertigo caused by something amiss in the cervical spine, while the visual symptoms may indicate disturbed circulation to the posterior brain.

What Causes Cervical Vertigo

Cervical spinal stenosis may trigger dizziness and these other symptoms by way of vertebral arterial compression or nerve compression that affects proprioception (i.e. your ability to position your body in space). It could also be attributed to a problem in the upper region of the cervical spine at the brainstem.

Where visual disturbances accompany dizziness this suggests vertebral basilar compression. There are a number of arteries in the cervical spine and many conditions can lead to these becoming trapped by abnormal bone growth, atlanto-axial joint dislocation, neck surgery and scar tissue, calcified ligaments, slipped vertebrae, or herniated disc material. It is also possible that vertebral arterial dissection has occurred due to trauma, such as from whiplash, chiropractic adjustment, or other extreme neck movement. As such, anyone suffering from vertigo and dizziness that may have a spinal origin should avoid chiropractic treatment that involves neck adjustments, until cleared to do so by a physician.

Whiplash

Whiplash is a common cause of dizziness and vertigo, accompanied by unsteadiness, often weeks or months after the incident that caused the neck trauma. When whiplash occurs the neck is flexed and then extended in rapid succession, leading to the vertebral arteries being stretched. This can then impair circulation and arterial health as well as causing nerve damage and degenerative changes in the cervical spine that themselves go on to affect blood vessels and nerve health.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Other causes of dizziness connected with spinal stenosis include compression of the spinal cord and abnormal nerve signals and combined sensory input from the neck, vestibular system (ears), and the eyes. Cervical vertigo may also be caused by stroke, which may not result in pain and so can easily be overlooked as a mechanism behind persistent dizziness.

As cognitive issues can also result from cervical spinal stenosis that causes dizziness, it may be that patients find it difficult to advocate for themselves. Unfortunately, muscle tension in the neck and shoulder may make symptoms even worse, creating a vicious cycle that makes everyday activities hard to undertake.

Anyone who suspects that their dizziness is connected to neck problems, or who is experiencing persistent dizziness, should seek medical attention as there are tests that can determine if cervical vertigo is an issue. This may uncover a mechanical cause of dizziness, such as spinal stenosis, that is able to be relieved through surgery, or an inflammatory cause or other issue that can be resolved in order to relieve symptoms of cervical vertigo. Or, if cervical vertigo is ruled out then patients may discover another problem, such as altered blood flow to the brain after an ischemic stroke, or even a problem with vision or nerve function unrelated to the spine.

5 replies
  1. naomi layish
    naomi layish says:

    Over less than a year I have gone from being able to walk an hour or more at a stretch , up to half a mile , on paths or fields, to barely able to walk twenty minutes or far less (sometimes only a few minutes) without huge effort and spatial disorientation.
    I have been diagnosed with severe lumbar spinal stenosis (via MRI) and offered steroid injections. However I have no pain save when lifting anything weighing over a kilo or two; or occasionally when lying in the same position in bed for too long. Have also been offered surgery, but (meanwhile) declined.
    I have had vestibular problems for at least a dozen years, Menieres disease and occasional BPPV. Have physiotherapy for balance problems; however all neck movements cause dizziness, so I do not perform those exercises involving turning my head.
    I believe that it is the combination of these two conditions which are gradually but inexorably damaging my ability to walk. I try to walk every day at least twenty minutes , in instalments, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. Am worried that soon I shall be unable to walk at all. Any suggestions for help?

    Reply
  2. Dee
    Dee says:

    I have cervical vertigo but no one seems to take me seriously, and those who do have no suggestions as to how to alleviate the problem. Some days I’m mostly fine. Other days I bump around like I’m tipsy. (I don’t drink) I am functional most days but feel crummy most of the time. I can’t look up w/o dizziness. It’s a problem because I am short. Everything is higher than my line of vision. I’m not a “woe is me” person, but I have had to deal with this problem for about 10 years and I am tired of it. NO! I am NOT suicidal.

    Reply
  3. Terry Edwards
    Terry Edwards says:

    I have cervical stenosis, but the risk of surgery is too great. I have irregular heart beat, so the surgeons wont operate. How come a little wee pill, ( Digoxin )
    can control my irregular heart , yet a Neurosurgon can nt ?? Regards Terry

    Reply
  4. Susan
    Susan says:

    Hello. I am a 55 year old female diagnosed with cervical stenosis with mylopethy, with damaged between C2 and T4. I have many different symptoms: weakness in both arms, thumb index and middle fingers on both hands numb, ringing in my ears, vertigo when turning my head in a lying down position, awkward gain (dragging right heel and toe pointing outward), stiff neck and shoulders, arms going numb when I turn my head to look left or right for more than two minutes. These symptoms have been going on for quite some time now, the more severed symptoms for only about six months. Pain level is low (compared to whet it was a few years ago). I am going to have posterior lamenectomy in January of the C4 through C7 (since those are the most affected). The surgeon is not going to do a fusion, just a removal. I’m concerned that this will make my neck unstable, and they may have to do another surgery to fuse at a later time. Should I be concerned about this? And I was also wondering if my symptoms will go away after surgery? Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Rob
    Rob says:

    Everything I have read states there are no tests to determine if vertigo is being caused by the neck. Also, several doctors have said to me there are no test to determine cervical related vertigo. So which tests are your referring to in your article?

    Reply

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