Whiplash and Dizziness: What’s the Connection?

whiplash and dizziness

Whiplash and dizziness commonly go together. The keys to recovery are restoring neck and vestibular function. Here’s how we can help! Clear Chiropractic is an upper cervical specialist practice in Spokane, Washington that is a natural choice in healthcare without twisting, stretching or cracking.

Dizziness is one of the most common symptoms following a whiplash injury. Even without neck pain or headaches, dizziness can indicate damage to your cervical spine.

Understanding the Cervical Spine and Dizziness

Your neck contains three primary types of nerve receptors:

  • Pain receptors
  • Pressure receptors (detect movement)
  • Proprioceptors (regulate posture and balance)

Proprioceptors are crucial because they connect to the parts of your brain that process balance and equilibrium information from your eyes and inner ear. This connection makes whiplash and dizziness a remarkably common pair. The upper part of your neck, known as the craniocervical junction, is rich in proprioceptors and plays a significant role in regulating balance. Unlike other parts of the spine, this region lacks intervertebral discs, relying on muscles and ligaments (soft tissues) for stability.

The Impact of Soft Tissue Injuries in Whiplash and Dizziness

Many people with whiplash and dizziness are told they only have a “soft tissue injury.” However, even microscopic damage to these soft tissues can profoundly impact brain function and health. Low-speed impacts, such as a car accident at just 10 mph, can cause whiplash and dizziness, emphasizing that serious injuries or high-speed impacts are not necessary for significant damage.

Delayed Symptoms and Long-Term Effects

Dizziness, vertigo, and other disequilibrium symptoms often do not appear until your brain’s capacity to process balance information is reduced by over 50%. Symptoms of whiplash may not fully manifest until weeks or months after the injury. Research on Meniere’s Disease (characterized by vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss) has shown that nearly all sufferers had a whiplash injury 10-20 years before the onset of their symptoms.

Multiple minor injuries over a lifetime, such as sports injuries or car accidents, can accumulate, leading to dizziness or vertigo later in life—a condition known as post-concussion syndrome. This syndrome includes symptoms like:

Diagnosing Whiplash and Dizziness

Whiplash and concussion symptoms are nearly identical and often do not appear on X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs. Thus, the absence of fractures or bleeding does not mean you are uninjured. A recent study found that cervical proprioceptive testing, particularly “head repositioning error,” is a more sensitive test for assessing concussion and whiplash in teenagers.

Proprioceptive Testing: A Simple Self-Test

  1. Set a target on a wall at eye level about three feet away (Download Here).
  2. Wear specialized frames with a laser (available for home testing from NeurdSolutions.com).
  3. Center your head and body so that the laser aligns with the target.
  4. Close your eyes and perform three repetitions in each direction: flexion (down), extension (up), left rotation, and right rotation.
  5. After each movement, open your eyes to see if you are on target.

A normal error is within 3 degrees of the center in any direction. Consistently being off by more than 3 degrees, especially more than 4.5 degrees, indicates an issue with cervical proprioception.

Seeking Professional Help

Regular assessments by specialists can prevent long-term issues. Two types of specialists focus on restoring cervical spine function and balance:

  1. Vestibular Physical Therapist: Focuses on retraining the brain using eye movement exercises to develop collateral pathways and accommodate vestibular imbalances.
  2. Upper Cervical Chiropractor: Restores normal movement, function, and stability of neck joints through gentle, precise procedures, enhancing proprioceptive communication between the brain and body.

The Team Approach for Whiplash and Dizziness

Vestibular physical therapy and upper cervical chiropractic care are most effective when combined. They address different aspects of the same issue, providing a comprehensive approach to healing from whiplash and dizziness. For anyone who has experienced a whiplash injury, seeking both types of care can significantly improve recovery and long-term health.

If you are looking for help with 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.