What to Know About Cervicogenic Dizziness (Cervical Vertigo)

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on December 10, 2021
3 min read

What is cervicogenic dizziness? Cervicogenic dizziness is a condition in which you experience both neck pain and dizziness. It can also be associated with lightheadedness. It is known that the cervical spine plays a massive role in balance, and it is thought that cervicogenic dizziness is caused by a disturbance to it or the tissue around it. 

Your spine is made of 24 vertebrae or bones. The cervical spine consists of the seven vertebrae closest to your skull. In addition, some nerves run through your entire spinal cord. These nerves carry messages between your brain and body.

The cervical spine contains 50% of all nerves related to the body’s inner workings. The muscles surrounding the cervical spine are also essential for movement and communication between your body and brain. 

Cervical dizziness can be caused by:

  • Degeneration of the body 
  • Inflammation 
  • Joint issues
  • Lesions in the disks 
  • Abnormally high muscle tone 
  • Trauma to the muscles

People who’ve had extreme head trauma, cervical arthritis, or herniated cervical disks are more commonly affected by cervical vertigo. Cervicogenic dizziness can often result from a whiplash injury in car accidents. 

Typically, cervical vertigo symptoms happen months or years after trauma to the cervical spine. Anxiety and stress can affect the severity of your symptoms. This is because stress and anxiety affect your muscle tone and the responses of your sympathetic nervous system. 

Cervical vertigo symptoms can be varied. However, some of the most common of them are:

  • Dizziness. You may feel lightheaded, heavy-headed, faint, giddy, or unsteady. Often, vertigo affects your balance and makes you fall, waver, or feel like you are floating. Since laboratory tests cannot currently assist in a diagnosis of cervical vertigo, other potential varieties of vertigo will instead be excluded; “cervical” can be differentiated from other types of vertigo because it will rarely make you feel like you are spinning in circles.
  • Uncoordinated movement. If you are experiencing cervicogenic dizziness, you might be unable to coordinate your movement. 
  • Posture changes. You might find that you are unable to maintain a straight and upright posture. 
  • Vision or eye difficulty. There are a variety of visual symptoms from cervical vertigo. These could include rapid eye movement, inability to maintain a steady gaze on moving objects, or a visual sense of motion even when you aren't moving. You might start to have difficulty reading words on a page. 
  • Different walk. You can experience different or strange movements when you walk. 
  • Stomach troubles. You might find that you feel nauseous or that you might need to vomit. 
  • Upper cervical discomfort. Some people feel pain, but you may also just feel tightness or discomfort.
  • Headaches or neck pain. You may feel headaches like a ring around your head, pressing toward the front of your skull. You might also have severe migraines that make you sensitive to noise and light.

Often, cervicogenic vertigo has several causes, so several treatments may be needed. One type of treatment that you should do is manual (massage, or physical, therapy) therapy. You should make sure to treat the following parts of your body through this type of therapy:

  • Muscles directly under the skull
  • Neck muscles
  • A muscle that runs from your neck to your shoulder and then down to your shoulder
  • The muscles on the side of your neck
  • Your pectoral muscles

Often, manual therapy on its own will not take away the main symptom of dizziness. It is recommended that you also engage in vestibular therapy that is tailored to you alongside manual therapy.  Vestibular therapy consists of a set of exercises that include the following:

  • Eye exercises
  • Balance exercises
  • Walking exercises 
  • Neck movements
  • Exposure to certain environments

Generally, if you do both treatments, your symptoms will go away.