Have you ever experienced dizziness or felt like the room was spinning? Do you have neck pain or tightness? Did you know that those two things are often related?
Dizziness can be interpreted differently by many different people. It can feel like you’re underwater, or that the room is spinning, or the world is tilting. There are several different variables that can cause this dizziness. Today we’ll talk about how your dizziness could be coming from your neck.
First, Let’s Talk About Balance
We maintain our balance through three different systems in our body:
Our inner ear
Our inner ear is used like a level – when you tilt the level to one side, the bubble floats to the other. The same sort of leveling happens in our inner ear, helping us figure out which way is up, down, right and left. When there’s a problem with the inner ear, the dizziness is most commonly referred to as vertigo. There are different ways to test and treat for vertigo.
Proprioception is our ability to sense where we are in space. Our muscles, joints, and other sensory neurons send information back to the brain regarding our positioning, movement, and balance. Our brain then takes that information and synthesizes it. It then sends orders back to those muscles and joints to control and fine tune our movements.
How Our Neck Contributes to Our Balance
The muscles of our neck contract and relax in order to both stabilize and move our head. Our brain uses the information of how tight or loose a muscle is to figure out how to hold our head level (proprioception). It depends on that information to interpret and control our positioning and our movements. It then transmits that information of how our muscles are holding up our head to the parts in our brain that process the info from our eyes and our inner ear so that they can all work together.
Image Credit To: Essential Anatomy
Neuroplasticity and Neck Pain
When we have neck pain, it is usually due to an imbalance between our muscles that are contracting and relaxing. Our body is one big tensioning system; if one muscle tightens too much, it also over-stretches the muscle that opposes it.
Have you ever felt like you can’t turn your head to one side as far as the other without pain?
This is often caused by that mismatch in muscle tension. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt and learn from signals throughout our body. If we don’t correct the imbalance in the tightness or stretch in our muscles, our brain begins to interpret this new mismatch as normal. It then begins to adapt to this positioning.
But Remember Our Two Other Systems?
Nothing in our body works by itself. When our brain’s ability to accurately interpret the signals from our muscles and joints is impeded, it also sends that incorrect information to the parts of our brain that are processing information from our inner ear and our eyes. What results is a mismatch of competing information from the three systems that are supposed to be helping us maintain our balance. This is what can lead to those symptoms of dizziness. Our brain isn’t able to interpret which of the different signals from the three systems is the correct one.
Let’s say our muscles have tightened so that our head is tipped slightly to the left. If our muscles stay tight, they send signals to the brain telling it this new position is normal. Our brain then relays this new position to our inner ear. Because our head is tipped, our inner ear’s level is off. But the brain is telling the inner ear that the new position is the right one. The inner ear then checks in with our eyes to get a second opinion. Our eyes can sense that our head is tipped, but can’t figure out how to right our head. Dizziness is the result of the brain trying to make sense of all of this mismatched and incorrect information.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
Many people don’t know this, but physical therapists treat not only musculoskeletal disorders (neck pain and tightness) but also vestibular disorders (problems with our inner ear). Therefore, physical therapists can address not only your neck pain, but also determine if your inner ear may also be contributing to your dizziness. An evaluation regarding dizziness and neck pain at DPT will begin by addressing your neck pain or tightness by evaluating your posture, strength, mobility, and coordination of the muscles that move and support your neck and head. A thorough evaluation will also include screening for vestibular or inner ear symptoms that may also be contributing to your dizziness. We at DPT can then create a plan that addresses the imbalances in your neck to make sure your dizziness is treated and resolved.
Interested in getting rid of your dizziness and addressing your tight neck? Click the button below and fill out our form to see if you qualify for a complimentary Discovery Visit with our expert team.