Cervical Vertigo

Overview

What is cervical vertigo?

Cervical vertigo — also called cervicogenic dizziness — is a condition that causes both neck pain and dizziness. It’s related to certain neck conditions. Cervical vertigo can also occur following a cervical spine injury. Though, in most cases, symptoms don’t appear until months or years after the initial trauma.

Your cervical spine — or, your neck — plays a key role in balance and coordination. So, when this area of your spine is inflamed, arthritic or injured, it can make you feel dizzy, lightheaded and unsteady.

What is the difference between vertigo and cervical vertigo?

Vertigo refers to the sensation of spinning, even when you’re not moving. Cervical vertigo is a specific type of vertigo in which dizzy sensations are related to neck injury or inflammation.

Who does cervical vertigo affect?

Anyone can develop cervical vertigo. But the condition is much more common in people with:

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of cervical vertigo?

Cervical vertigo symptoms vary from person to person. They may include:

  • Dizziness.
  • A sensation of floating.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Lack of coordination or unsteadiness.
  • Balance problems.
  • Posture changes.
  • Visual symptoms, such as rapid eye movement and visual fatigue.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Neck pain or tightness.
  • Headaches.

Unlike other types of vertigo, cervical vertigo rarely makes you feel like you’re spinning. Instead, most people describe a lightheaded or “floating” sensation.

Furthermore, cervical vertigo symptoms overlap with symptoms of many vestibular (inner ear) disorders, including:

For this reason, your healthcare provider will need to rule out other conditions before making a diagnosis.

What causes cervical vertigo?

Anytime your cervical spine develops an issue or sustains an injury, dizziness and other symptoms can occur. Experts are still researching cervical vertigo, but possible causes include:

Regardless of what causes cervical vertigo, stress and anxiety can trigger your symptoms.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is cervical vertigo diagnosed?

Because cervical vertigo can mimic symptoms of other conditions — such as BPPV, central vertigo and vestibular neuritis — your healthcare provider will need to rule out other issues. To do this, they’ll need to run tests, which may include:

Management and Treatment

How do you fix cervical vertigo?

Cervical vertigo treatment involves addressing the underlying condition. Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s specific guidelines. In addition, they may recommend physical therapy, vestibular rehabilitation, medication or a combination of treatments.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy exercises can help improve your balance and coordination, as well as your neck’s range of motion. A physical therapist can train you in proper posture and teach you stretching exercises to reduce your symptoms. In some cases, your healthcare provider might refer you to a specialist for a chiropractic adjustment of your neck and spine.

It’s important to note that physical therapy can improve many cervical vertigo symptoms, but it can’t eliminate dizziness. For this reason, your healthcare provider may recommend vestibular rehabilitation as well.

Vestibular rehabilitation

Vestibular rehabilitation encompasses a number of exercises designed to improve your balance and reduce dizziness. These cervical vertigo exercises are tailored to your needs and may include training in:

  • Eye movements.
  • Neck movements.
  • Balance.
  • Walking.

Your healthcare provider can teach you how to do these cervical vertigo treatments at home.

Medications

Medications may also be a part of your cervical vertigo treatment plan. These medications may include:

  • Muscle relaxants to reduce neck tightness.
  • Pain relievers to ease discomfort.
  • Drugs to reduce dizziness.

What doctor treats cervical vertigo?

Cervical vertigo is typically treated by a neurologist — a doctor who specializes in diseases of the brain, spinal cord and nerves.

Prevention

Can I prevent cervical vertigo?

You can’t always prevent cervical vertigo, especially if it’s the result of a car accident, sports injury or other traumatic event. However, physical therapy exercises can help keep your neck muscles strong. In turn, this can decrease pressure on your cervical disks and reduce your risk of developing cervical vertigo later on.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have cervical vertigo?

Most of the time, cervical vertigo is quite manageable. But proper diagnosis and treatment are essential. You’ll probably need testing to rule out other, more serious conditions.

Once a diagnosis is established, your healthcare provider will recommend personalized treatment to ease your symptoms. Depending on the cause and extent of your condition, you may need physical therapy, vestibular (inner ear) therapy or medication.

How long does cervical vertigo last?

Episodes of cervicogenic dizziness can last between several minutes to several hours. The condition itself can last several years, and people may experience periodic flare-ups.

Keep in mind, cervical vertigo symptoms can appear months — or even years — after a traumatic incident.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you have neck pain, dizziness or other cervical vertigo symptoms, schedule a visit with your healthcare provider immediately. Because cervicogenic dizziness can mimic other, more serious health conditions, prompt diagnosis and treatment are key.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

If you suspect you might have cervical vertigo or a related health issue, here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What’s the main cause of my symptoms?
  • Could any other factors cause my symptoms?
  • Is this issue short-term or long-term?
  • Will I need testing?
  • Which tests will I need?
  • How long will it take for a proper diagnosis?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Are there ways to manage my symptoms at home?
  • Could my symptoms go away without treatment?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Dizziness and neck pain are both uncomfortable symptoms that can interfere with day-to-day living. But when they occur together, they can make even the simplest tasks seem impossible. Your healthcare provider can determine what caused cervical vertigo and tailor a treatment plan to manage your symptoms. With care and diligence, you can minimize your symptoms and vastly improve your quality of life.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/03/2022.

References

  • Chu ECP, Chin WL, Bhaumik A. Cervicogenic dizziness. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31844531/) Oxf Med Case Reports. 2019 Dec 9;2019(11):476-478. Accessed 6/3/2022.
  • Devaraja K. Approach to cervicogenic dizziness: a comprehensive review of its aetiopathology and management. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30094486/) Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2018 Oct;275(10):2421-2433. Accessed 6/3/2022.
  • Reiley AS, Vickory FM, Funderburg SE, et al. How to diagnose cervicogenic dizziness. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5759906/) Arch Physiother. 2017;7:12. Published 2017 Sep 12. Accessed 6/3/2022.
  • Vestibular Disorders Association. Cervicogenic Dizziness. (https://vestibular.org/article/diagnosis-treatment/types-of-vestibular-disorders/cervicogenic-dizziness/) Accessed 6/3/2022.

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