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Dizziness and Headaches - What’s the ConNECKion?

When asked what symptom people with migraines would prefer never to have again, the most common answer is often dizziness. Dizziness and headaches are some of the most common symptoms that frequently occur together. In fact, if you were to do a quick WebMD search you would find that dizziness and headaches are associated with 90+ different conditions ranging from mild traumatic brain injury, such as a concussion, to sunburns. So, what is the connection between these two symptoms?

1. Let’s start with the Neck!

The neck is a vital and complex region of our body that supports our head and allows our brain to communicate with the rest of our body. The average adult head weighs around 10-12 lbs and is balanced on a 2 oz ring of bone called the atlas (C1). While this design may seem flawed, there are approximately 44 muscles and a near equal number of ligaments that support our head and neck and communicate with our brain about where our body is in space.

Neck injuries, such as whiplash injuries, or chronic repetitive stress injuries, such as poor posture, can cause the joints in our neck to lock up in an abnormal position leading to restricted range of motion and increased muscle stiffness. When our joints are not moving properly the surrounding muscles and ligaments send incorrect information to the brain which can often lead to feelings of imbalance, unsteadiness, and light headedness. In addition, the increased muscle stiffness can trigger referred pain and pressure that may be felt in the forehead, temples, and base of the skull. This is characteristic of the classic tension type headache, which is the most common type of headache reported. Treating the underlying neck dysfunction may be as simple as correcting your posture and can dramatically reduce these symptoms. For tips on how to improve your posture check out my previous article:

2. Changes in Blood Flow

Have you ever stood up too quickly and felt the initial head rush and unsteadiness as blood flow is momentarily reduced to our brain? Typically, this sensation is transient and we have several built-in mechanisms to ensure our body quickly adapts to pump blood against gravity to get it to our brain.

Our brain is a very energetically expensive organ, using about 20% of our body’s metabolism to function. Changes in blood flow to our brain can occur with postural changes, dehydration, hypertension, and may be associated with certain types of headache, such as migraines.

Migraines are a severe type of headache that may be associated with a host of unusual symptoms, including nausea, numbness, visual changes, and dizziness. While it is not fully understood what specifically happens in the body to cause a migraine, one theory looks at changes in hormones and neurotransmitters that may trigger vasospasm (constriction) of the blood vessels in the upper neck and brain resulting in the diverse symptoms characteristic of a migraine.

In addition, when this vasospasm occurs near structures associated with the inner ear, it can trigger sensations of spinning, imbalance, nausea, and vomiting. In fact, there has been an associated increased risk for young people who experience migraines and the future development of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), the most common cause of dizziness.

While these are some of the less talked about factors contributing to dizziness and headaches, your lifestyle is another important consideration to keep in mind. This includes the roles of sleep, diet, and stress management. In some instances, there may be a simple solution to this problem, such as a positioning maneuver or postural correction; in other cases, often taking a holistic lifestyle approach is required to control, reduce, and prevent episodes of dizziness and headaches. Seeking guidance from a professional can help expedite your road to recovery and help you take back control health!


Dr. Speranza is an upper cervical Chiropractor in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She follows the protocols of the National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA) to help people experiencing problems with postural related dizziness regain balance, return to doing the activities that they love, and ultimately take back control of their health.

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