3 November, 2020
Causes of Dizziness
Approximate reading time: 2-5 minutes
What is dizziness?
We are able to stand and move about due to our balance. When our balance is out-of-whack, it can be perceived as “dizziness”, “giddiness”, “off-balance”, “spinning”, “unsteadiness” or “lightheadedness” sensations.
Our balance system involves three main body senses:
- Visual - the eyes
- Vestibular - the inner ears
- Proprioceptive - the joints & muscles
This gives our brain a map. Where are we compared to the ground - so that we don’t fall on to it. Where are we compared to the table - so we don’t bump into it. Where is our arm - so that we can catch a ball.
The neocortex and brainstem (parts of the brain) then combine this information to give us a snapshot of where our body is: are we upside down, walking on an angle up a hill or perfectly still.
Causes of dizziness
Sometimes these three balance systems give different information.
Have you ever thought about sea sickness?
Your body, particularly your ankles and core, feel the gentle sway of the waves beneath the boat. The fluid in your inner ears mirrors the waves’ motion - back and forth, back and forth. Yet your eyes see that the horizon is stable. Your eyes can’t see that you are moving.
What is your brain to believe? Your eyes? Or your body & ears?
This creates confusion for your processing centres due to a mismatch of information. This can present as sea sickness.
The brain then mixes all this information together to paint the maps of your body and the world around you.
To make this complex task faster the brain develops a template - your long term memory. Sometimes the template doesn't match what information it's receiving. More confusion ensues.
If there is inconsistent information, or it differs from your expectations, you can 'feel off'. It may be dizziness, unsteadiness, vertigo, nausea or a number of other symptoms.
Some common causes include restricted joints and tight muscles in the neck, build up of stones in the inner ears, inflammation of the nerves or changes in blood pressure.
Dizziness that starts from the neck is called cervicogenic. ‘Cervical’ means neck - the bones, joints and muscles. Neck pain and headaches are common with this dizziness.
It may occur after a whiplash or concussion but can also occur from poor posture.
Vestibular migraines are a special type of migraine. Dizziness or vertigo is a main feature of these migraines.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
Sounds ominous but its not - it's benign. Just a lot of big words. BPPV is commonly seen by manual therapists and is easily treated. Different positions give short lasting - or paroxysmal - bursts of vertigo. It usually only requires one to three treatments depending on the severity and history.
Labyrinthitis is an inner ear infection. You may have a fever, hearing loss, pain and pus seeping from your ear. It typically is only on one side
Similarly, vestibular neuronitis is an infection but this time of the nerve leaving your ear. It doesn't involve any hearing loss and can appear after a respiratory infection.
Fluid in the ears causes Ménière's Disease but the cause of the build up is unknown. Vertigo attacks can last a day. Tinnitus and hearing loss are also typical features.
Other causes of dizziness
- High blood pressure
- Orthostatic hypotension
- Stress, tension & fatigue
- Visual disturbances
- Vasovagal syndromes
The treatment protocol is highly dependent on the cause of the dizziness. Some causes of dizziness are very simple to resolve with one or two simple treatments, whilst others require in-depth rehabilitation therapy. These exercises are called vestibular rehabilitation.
At other times, medication and surgery may be required as a stand alone treatment or in addition to rehabilitation exercises.
- The three key balance systems are the eyes, inner ears (vestibular) and body (proprioceptive)
- Dizziness is a mismatch of information or unexpected information from the balance system
- Dizziness can be caused by the neck, blood flow, inflammation, nerves, crystals in the ears and more
- Treatments can be very simple. But sometimes they require more work with specific home exercises
About the Author
Dr Cassie Atkinson-Quinton - Chiropractor, Brain Health Coach & Biofeedback Practitioner
Dr Cassie is a Chiropractor and Brain Health Coach. Having a special interest in treating nerves and brain-based conditions like nerve pain, chronic pain, dizziness, whiplash, migraines and fibromyalgia. She's one of a handful of practitioners to be trained in Neuro-Rehabilitation, Neurofeedback, QEEG Functional Brain Scans and Brain Health Coaching.
She’s had concussions and atypical migraines as well as a vestibular disorder called Labyrinthitis. During this time, she would hold on to tables to avoid falling over. She understands the journey coming from a family of chronic pain and migraine sufferers.
Similar articles you'll enjoy:
- Bisdorff A, Bosser G, Gueguen R & Perrin P (2012). The Epidemiology of Vertigo, Dizziness, and Unsteadiness and Its Links to Co-Morbidities. Front Neurol. 2013; 4: 29.Published online 2013 Mar 22. Prepublished online 2012 Dec 31. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2013.00029
- Lackner JR (2014). Motion sickness: More than nausea and vomiting. Experimental Brain Research. 232 (8): 2493–2510. doi: 10.1007/s00221-014-4008-8
- Wrisley DM, Sparto PJ, Whitney SL, Furman JM (2000). Cervicogenic dizziness: a review of diagnosis and treatment. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2000 Dec;30(12):755-66.