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Dizziness and Balance Deficits that Arise from the Cervical Spine

Dizziness and Balance Deficits that Arise from the Cervical SpineStacey Ross, PT, DPT, COMT of STAR Physical Therapy in Columbia, TN, explains how the human body is made up of multiple systems that work together to keep us safe and functioning. When these systems go haywire, a variety of problems can arise.

Balance deficits and dizziness are two specific problems that can lead to decreased safety and can affect our ability to perform even basic activities of daily living. Physical therapy plays a vital role in helping patients return to normal daily activities when dizziness hits home. A vestibular therapist can treat acute dizziness such as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, or true vertigo, or more complex cases of dizziness.

Cervicogenic dizziness, or dizziness caused by the cervical spine, is characterized by the following symptoms:
– a vague sensation of unsteadiness or feeling “off”
– episodic in nature lasting anywhere from minutes to hours
made worse by neck movements or static positioning of the neck (even if full neck range
of motion is present)
– associated symptoms such as nausea, neck pain and/or blurred vision
– can occur in patients of all ages

Although cervicogenic dizziness is frequently associated with neck injuries, such as whiplash or degenerative changes in the cervical spine, this form of dizziness can occur without an injury. The top
three vertebra in the cervical spine work in conjunction with the nerves that affect our perception of dizziness. Therefore, if your upper cervical spine is not moving properly due to injury or degenerative changes, this can lead to your brain perceiving movement when movement is not present.

How can physical therapy
help with this type of dizziness?
Manual therapy techniques, such as joint mobilizations, can help to reduce neck joint stiffness and improve how the nerves conduct signals to the brain. Joint mobilizations can make immediate changes in reducing the sensation of unsteadiness. This leads to improving a patient’s performance of balance activities and can help to normalize a person’s gait pattern.

In addition to joint mobilizations, a physical therapist can implement an exercise program to challenge a person’s sensorimotor system. There are three components that make up the sensorimotor system. The body communicates amongst the visual system, the vestibular system (inner ear), and proprioceptors from muscles (ranging from the feet all the way up to the neck) to keep us steady and upright. Proprioception, or position sense, is our body’s ability to determine the position of a joint when vision is occluded. Balance re-training and eye movement exercises help to improve the position sense of the neck, resulting in increased steadiness. Also, endurance training to the muscles deep in the neck can help to improve balance. With the reduction in dizziness and unsteadiness, a patient can return to their normal daily activities with confidence and safety.

STAR Physical Therapy has multiple locations throughout Middle Tennessee that specialize in Vestibular Rehabilitation and/or Manual Therapy. These specialized therapists can help to eliminate various causes of dizziness and balance deficits, including cervicogenic dizziness, to allow a person to return to independent and safe daily activities.

Stacey Ross, PT, DPT, COMT
Stacey practices physical therapy at STAR Physical Therapy in Columbia, TN. Stacey received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Belmont University in 2007 and her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Belmont University in 2010. Stacey has been employed with STAR Physical Therapy since graduating from Physical Therapy school. She has been a Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist through Maitland-Australian Physiotherapy Seminars since 2012. Stacey specializes in treating Balance and Vestibular patients, along with orthopedic conditions, while focusing on manual treatment. Stacey grew up in Columbia and has enjoyed raising her own family back in her hometown with her husband Jonathan. They have two boys, Cooper and Rylan. She enjoys traveling and sewing in her free time.

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