One Important Thing You Probably Don't Know About Your Vertigo

Over the years many treatments have been identified to manage this debilitating and terrifying condition. But none try to tackle the root causes.

Vertigo is a symptom of several different conditions rather than a stand-alone disease.  The common denominator is that Vertigo affects the Vestibular System, which is responsible for sensing motion via the inner ear, and for detecting the location of the body in space (proprioception). Disruption of this System may lead to false movement signals to the brain, which could then trigger an episode. 

The main symptom of Vertigo is an extreme sense that the world is spinning around you. Other symptoms include nausea, double vision, decreased hearing, ringing in the ears and migraines. Depending on the cause, an episode can last for a few minutes, or for hours, days, or even weeks! 

I have a few clients that suffer from this terrifying and often debilitating condition. I sought to understand what might pre-dispose these very busy mothers and grandmothers, and more importantly, what I might be able to do to help them. 

Most of the information I found on the internet was repetitive,  analyzing and describing the various types of Vertigo, explaining who is most at risk, identifying possible triggers, and listing treatments/remedies geared towards short-term relief

None of it touched on possible underlying cause(s). Since It becomes more common with age and affects women two to three times more often than men, this was very hard for me to swallow. 

How can we: 

1) simply tell them to gently ride out the storm, 

2) perform a few maneuvers/adjustments, 

3) suggest dietary restrictions, 

4) advise stress reduction or even 

5) prescribe anti-depressants and then send them on their merry way? 

Unfortunately I had to put it aside, thinking "what do I know?" I am not a doctor or a scientist. My sample size is small and my personal training practice isn't exactly a controlled peer-reviewed study. 
Everything changed when I enrolled in Dr. Sarah Ellis Duvall's Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist (PCES) certification course. Pertinent scientific studies are a major part of the curriculum. 

As I was reading Tempromandibular Disorder and Dysfunctional Breathing, included in the Postural Alignment part of the course, this quote practically lept off the page at me: 

"The effects of the forward cephalic position for a long period are: alterations of proprioceptive pulses (with space disorientation, dizzies, nauseas and vertigo) due to sternocleidomastoideus hyperactivity and shortening, which commits nervous structors, cephalic pain, occlusal alteration, more posterior dental contact, more compression of TMJ due to mandibular replacement, with consequent cranium-facial pain. It is concluded that TMD, as well as cephalic pain, dizziness, vertigo, nistagmo and the swallowing difficulty, can have extrinsic origin in the system stomatognatic."

Translation: poor posture, in this case forward head syndrome and mouth breathing (whichever came first) might be putting you at risk for Vertigo by disrupting the inter-relationship between the nervous and muscular systems - resulting in false movement signals being sent to the brain. So, what does this have to do with my clients? Well, they experienced a triumvirate of life events that would result in such a disruption, namely pregnancy, childbirth and the approach/arrival of menopause. 

How does this all fit together?

(Note: this section contains a very short summary on anatomy, as it can easily be several blog posts on its own)

The postural system of the body incorporates the following complexes: cerivcal (head), thoracic (mid-upper back), and lumbo-pelvic-hip (low back, pelvis and hip). 

Vital activities such as breathing and movement depend on proper integration and coordination of these systems. The system is operating efficiently and safely when all muscles are doing the jobs they are supposed to do, in the right position, at the right time and with the right amount of force. 

Dysfunction anywhere in the system will lead to  compensations elsewhere, which will multiply, causing more compensations, eventually leading to a breakdown of the system. 

Upper thoracic and mouth breathing patterns have a variety of causes, but they always result in the overuse of what's known as the accessory breathing muscles in the shoulders, head and neck (the sternocleidomastoid mentioned above) rather than the primary breathing muscles (the diaphragm and the muscles that run between the ribs) to facilitate easier breathing. The same goes for forward head posture. 

The result of these dysfunctional patterns can be seen throughout the postural and nervous system. The effects include:

  • rounding of the upper back,
  • forward head syndrome,
  • TMJ,
  • headaches,
  • neck and shoulder pain,
  • forward rib flare (and the appearance of a bulging belly),
  • low back pain,  
  • decreased diaphragm expansion,
  • poor neuromuscular control of the intrinsic core stabilizers (including the diaphragm),
  • poor proprioception, 
  • tension/anxiety, and 
  • DIZZINESS (including Vertigo)

Going back to our over 40 mothers and grandmothers, life has thrown them a perfect storm of events that often leads to worsening posture and breathing dysfunction. These events are pregnancy, childbirth and (eventually) pre-menopause and menopause! Lucky them. 

Please note: I am NOT recommending avoiding medical professionals. It is vital to visit your doctor if you're experiencing symptoms of Vertigo to rule out more serious disorders. But you owe it to yourself to have a complete breathing and postural analysis by a competent professional, even if you've never had any Vertigo symptoms. Because if you're a mouth breather and/or have forward head posture, you are likely confronting other health issues besides possibly setting yourself up for disorders like Vertigo.