Dizziness vs. Vertigo: What’s the difference?

February 23, 2021 | Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, Wellness

What’s the difference between dizziness and vertigo?

Vertigo and dizziness are both common problems experienced by adults. They are symptoms that can result from a peripheral vestibular disorder, which is a dysfunction of the balance organs of the inner ear, or from other causes such as from neck (cervical spine) issues. Although dizziness and vertigo sound similar, the terms have different meanings. Dizziness is a sensation of lightheadedness, faintness, or unsteadiness. Unlike dizziness, vertigo has a rotational, spinning component, and is the perception of movement, either of the self or surrounding objects.


Causes of vertigo 

Vestibular dysfunction is most commonly caused by head injury, aging, and viral infection. Other illnesses, as well as genetic and environmental factors, may also cause or contribute to vestibular disorders. The most common vestibular disorder, and the most common cause of vertigo, is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). BPPV is a condition resulting from dislodged calcium crystals that migrate to a sensitive area of the inner ear. BPPV can occur due to head injury, or due to the degeneration of inner-ear hair cells during the natural process of aging. Sometimes the cause is unknown, and research in this area is ongoing.


Causes of dizzinesss

A common cause of dizziness is a condition called Cervicogenic Dizziness. It’s a clinical syndrome of disequilibrium and disorientation in patients with neck problems that include cervical trauma, cervical arthritis, and others. Individuals with cervicogenic dizziness tend to complain of dizziness that is often worse during head movements, or after maintaining certain neck positions for a long time. Dizziness usually occurs during or soon after experiencing neck pain, stiffness and/or decreased neck range of motion. It may also be accompanied by an occipital (back of the head) headache. Often the dizziness decreases as the neck pain decreases. 


Although many people are prescribed medication for BPPV, there is little evidence to support its effectiveness in the treatment of this condition. In the vast majority of cases, BPPV can be corrected mechanically. Once your healthcare provider performs a detailed examination and determines which canal the crystals are in, they can take you through the appropriate treatment maneuver. 


The majority of patients with cervico­genic dizziness improve with appropriate neck treatment. Several studies have reported that approxi­mately three quarters of patients improve with conservative treatment of the neck, such as manipulations or mobiliza­tions, exercises, and instruction in proper posture and neck positioning. 


If you’re feeling dizzy or experiencing vertigo, this is not something you have to just live with. Contact one of our clinics and schedule an assessment with one of our chiropractors or physiotherapists. They will determine the cause and appropriate treatment.