Neck pain can be a simple, uninhibiting issue with few repercussions once the pain has been managed. Likewise, feeling dizzy can be a result of simply standing up too fast. Neither neck pain or dizziness have to be a big deal, but the two combined can be a sign of a more complex issue. Here is how to know if you should worry about neck pain and dizziness.
Dizziness, or vertigo, is a sensation of spinning or lightheadedness; you may feel as if you have lost your balance or are floating. Very often vertigo is caused by inner ear conditions and is easily treatable, but when it appears in tandem with neck pain from an injury, it’s diagnosed as cervical vertigo. Cervicogenic dizziness (considered a more correct term by experts) is another term for neck pain combined with dizziness. The first step to discovering if you’re suffering from cervicogenic dizziness is to rule out other cause to ensure your neck pain and dizziness are, in fact, connected.
Any sort of neck pain should be taken seriously. Even a pinched nerve—which can go away on its own when rested—can result in permanent nerve damage if you don’t let it heal. Cervicogenic dizziness tends to occur when the neck pain is caused by an injury like whiplash or trauma to the head. When such injuries are sustained, dizziness can be indicative of a brain injury. It can take some time to find the exact root of a neck injury. Most sources recommend seeking help quickly, particularly if the pain and dizziness aren’t getting better or are getting worse.
Causes of Cervical Vertigo
According to the American Hearing Research Foundation, there are two common causes of cervical vertigo. The first is vascular compression. Vascular compression occurs when the arteries in the neck are compressed by spinal discs or nearby tissue. This may be the result of surgery, arthritis, improper chiropractic movements, or vertebral dissection. Vertebral dissection is a small tear in the artery that goes through the neck bringing blood to the brain (the vertebral artery). Major trauma from serious accidents like sports injuries and car wrecks can cause vertebral dissection (yet another reason to seek medical attention following any serious injury to the head or neck).
Additionally, the proprioceptors in the neck (which are responsible for sensing movement) can cease to function properly, interfering with the feeling of normal movement and resulting in vertigo. Trauma, a stiff neck, and other issues can cause this abnormal sensory input and require treatment to manage symptoms.
When to Call 911 or Go to the Hospital
Symptoms occurring with dizziness that constitute an emergency situation include a very stiff neck. If your neck is stiff and painful to move even slightly, go to the hospital. If your neck pain and dizziness are are combined with seizures; vomiting; fainting; difficulty breathing or walking; a change in speech, vision, or consciousness; feeling numb or weak; or with a fever or head injury, seek immediate medical help.
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