Vasovagal Syncope – Is your dizziness coming from your neck?
Vasovagal syncope is the fancy term for when you feel dizzy, like you’re going to suddenly black out. It often accompanies a sense of anxiety, low blood pressure, low blood sugar and weakness in your legs and body, like the floor is falling out from under your feet.
Vasovagal syncope can be especially scary if it happens when you are driving or standing upright. It is triggered due to disruption of either the vagus nerve or the glossopharyngeal nerve, which regulate blood pressure. Vasovagal syncope can also occur if there is as problem with brain circulation.
The question is why. What causes the vagus nerve to misfire in this way that it sparks dizziness and weakness?
The Reason Vasovagal Syncope is a Tricky Diagnosis
One of the most frustrating things for people who experience vasovagal syncope is an inability to get a diagnosis. You have the normal types of blood tests, CT and MRI scans, but the results come back pretty much normal. The reason is that vasovagal syncope is not typically a condition caused by overt pathology. Pathology includes things like brain tumors, infections, bleeding, etc.
Instead, vasovagal syncope is an example of a functional neurological disorder, which can only be understood by considering the relationship of structures that affect how the nerve works.
The vagus nerve conveys all of the information between your brain and your vital life organs. That is both the function and the sensory. This is the reason that the traditional medical approach prescribes beta blockers, anti-anxiety or even anti-epileptic medication to dampen the signals. The problem is that these medications mask the symptoms without addressing the underlying cause.
When it comes to identifying the cause of vasovagal syncope, there is not just one thing that causes it. However, when we look at the structure and function of your upper neck, we can begin to put the pieces together.
How does your upper neck affect Vasovagal Syncope
The upper cervical spine includes the top two bones in your neck – the C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis) – as well as a host of important muscles, ligaments, blood vessels and nerves that affect the function of your brain.
Of interest, the vagus exits the base of your skull and travels downward to your organs along the front of the C1 and C2 vertebrae. When these vertebrae slide forward such as what happens when we stick our heads forward (e.g., texting, typing, reading, writing). they can irritate the vagus nerve. Think of it like having a pebble stuck in your shoe. One little rub doesn’t cause a problem. However, thousands of repetitions like what happens when you move your head have the potential to cause significant discomfort.
Of course, this is not the fully story. Most people can move their head just fine without experiencing vasovagal syncope. However, when you consider how a mechanical problem at C1 or C2 vertebra PLUS another problem in the area of your upper neck can DOUBLE the tension, THAT is how we can put the pieces together.
We inherit our bone structure from our parents. Through no fault of our own then, there are some types of bone structures that make some people more susceptible to certain conditions that others. It is because these types of bone structures give us a smaller margin of error. This is one reason why conditions such as headaches and migraines seem to have a familial tendency. So, if we have a problem with our C1-C2 alignment PLUS one of these conditions, it is more likely that we will experience vasovagal syncope:
A chiari malformation occurs when the base of the brainstem or cerebellum (balance and coordination center) bulges beneath the rim of your skull and into the space where your spinal canal sits. Think of it like squeezing your foot into a shoe one size too small. You can do it, but it is not comfortable. Neurologically, people with chiari malformation are more likely to experience headaches, migraines, dizziness, vertigo and also symptoms associated with vagus nerve dysfunction. Of note, head, neck and whiplash injuries and C1-C2 misalignments are major factors that can make a chiari malformation worse. This is one major reason why getting proper treatment for your neck is so important if you know that you have chiari malformation.
Basilar impression occurs when the shape of your skull can exert tension along your brainstem. Think of it like a poorly designed road with an exceptionally sharp turn that requires you to slam on your brakes every time you take the turn. Especially when a C1-C2 misalignment occurs, this sharpens the turn even more, which makes it even more likely that you will experience vagus nerve dysfunction.
Eagle’s syndrome occurs when you have jaw/TMJ dysfunction that creates tension and calcification along the bones and ligaments that travel along the front of your neck. The reason this is so important for people with vasovagal syncope is that elongation of these particular bones PLUS a forward C1-C2 misalignment can literally compress the vagus nerve, sympathetic nerves plus the major arteries and veins that go to your brain.
Ehler’s Danos Syndrome
Ehler’s Danos Syndrome occurs when you have extra stretchiness of your ligaments. As kids, we often refer to this as being “double jointed.” When our ligaments are more elastic, it means that movements of the C1-C2 vertebrae are more likely to lock in the wrong position and produce vagus nerve dysfunction.
What can you do for Vasovagal Syncope? – The Upper Cervical Chiropractic Approach
Short of surgery, there is not much that can be done medically for chiari malformation, basilar impression or Eagle’s syndrome. Because these are all physical conditions, medication only masks the symptoms. However, as we described earlier, what you can address is the C1-C2 misalignment piece of the puzzle. By resolving those types of issues, that can help give your vagus nerve just enough wiggle room so that your body can relax and so that you can experience relief from your symptoms.
This is where a unique and natural approach to healthcare known as the Blair technique can help. The Blair technique is a special division of upper cervical specific chiropractic that does not use any bending, popping, twisting or cracking. Instead, the produce involves a series of precise diagnostic measurements to identify the cause of your vasovagal symptoms and the exact direction of C1-C2 misalignment. Treatment then is bespoke, designed just for your based on your genetics, anatomy and misalignment pattern like a custom-fit key. That way, it doesn’t take any forceful twisting or cracking to restore the normal motion so that your body can do what it is designed to do: heal itself.
Find out if the Blair technique might be the solution you are looking for if you’ve been experiencing vasovagal syncope. If you are looking for a chiropractor in Spokane, visit our home page more information. To schedule a new patient appointment with our Mead (north Spokane) or South Hill offices, complete a new patient request form here or call us direct at 509-315-8166.