What causes cervical vertigo? Symptoms, exercises, treatment, and prognosis

vertigoCervical vertigo is best described as dizziness that occurs when you move your neck. While there are different reasons for a person to suffer from cervical vertigo, in almost all cases, the condition includes neck pain.

Many people are familiar with the term vertigo, but cervical vertigo should not be confused with aural vertigo. Aural vertigo is dizziness and a sensation of imbalance that is usually due to an inner ear problem. It is important to note that in cases of cervical vertigo, neck pain is associated with ear pain.


With cervical vertigo, which is also called cervicogenic dizziness, a person feels like the world is spinning around them. It is easy to understand how this condition can affect sense of balance and concentration.

What are the causes of cervical vertigo?

Cervical vertigo is not easy to diagnose because there are various causes for it. The following list outlines some of the most common reasons people suffer from this type of dizziness.

Chronic pain

Studies published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, indicate that impaired neck motion can disturb sensory nerves in the cervical spine and cause a sense of dizziness.


Research indicates that approximately 25 to 50 percent of people who experience whiplash also report vertigo as a symptom. One study suggests that for some people, the dizziness could be from changes in blood flow through the arteries that feed into the brainstem, but more research is needed in this area.


Degenerative arthritis and vertigo seem to be common among older individuals. The more severe arthritis of the neck is, the more likely a person will experience vertigo.

Blockage of arteries

This is still being studied, but it is believed that blockage of arteries in the neck from hardening or tearing could cause cervical vertigo. Blockage of arteries can happen as a result of arthritis, surgery, or trauma to the neck.

Cervical spondylosis

This is an advanced stage of neck osteoarthritis. It causes the vertebrae and discs in the neck to wear and tear over time. Since it can put pressure on the spinal cord, it may also block blood flow to the brain and inner ear.

Vertebral artery rupture

Vertebral arteries can become damaged due to over-stretching. Sometimes it can cause the vertebral artery to burst and lead to dizziness.


This is an abnormality of the base of the skull. It can be developmental or it can be due to softening of the base bone of the skull. Sometimes, it occurs in conjunction with other congenital abnormalities, such as fusion of the first cervical vertebrae.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Cervical disease, which can cause vertigo, has been known to be a problem for people who suffer from RA, especially in advanced cases.

Cervical root sleeve tear

This is when the tough outer layer of a disc in the spine ruptures. This can happen due to injury or even as a part of natural aging. When cerebrospinal fluid leaks due to a cervical root sleeve tear, the pressure can cause dizziness.

Some people who suffer from migraines also complain about dizziness. Depending on the cause of the headache, this may also be defined as vertigo.

Symptoms of cervical vertigo

You already know that dizziness can be a sign of vertigo. However, it can also be a sign of many different health issues. Let’s take a closer look at cervical vertigo symptoms.

The dizziness linked to vertigo is from sudden neck movement—for instance, if the sufferer suddenly turns his or her head. The list below covers some of the other potential signs and symptoms.

  • Neck pain
  • Ear pain or ringing
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of balance when walking, trying to sit up, or trying to stand-up
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling weak
  • Visual disturbances, such as spots in vision or loss of vision in half of the visual field

For most people with vertigo, the symptoms are aggravated when coughing, sneezing, or participating in any physical exercise.

How to diagnose cervical vertigo

Treatment for cervical vertigo will only be applied if and when a person has received a definitive diagnosis. Doctors usually have to eliminate other potential causes, including inner ear disease, stroke, tumors, and autoimmune diseases before concluding it is cervical vertigo. Of course, vertigo that could be linked to injuries will also be considered. Once other causes are ruled out, a cervical vertigo test that includes head movements will be conducted.

Here are some of the additional cervical vertigo tests that may be used:

  • MRI scan of the neck
  • MRA (Magnetic resonance angiography)
  • Vertebral angiography
  • Vertebral Doppler ultrasound
  • Flexion-extension X-ray of cervical spine
  • Fluoroscopy (X-ray allows doctor to see organs in motion)
  • Evoked potential tests (Measures spinal cord and brain pathways in nervous system)
  • Dynamic posturography (Balance control test)
  • Audiogram (Hearing test)

Exercises for cervical vertigo

It may sound odd since cervical vertigo is linked to sudden movement, but when suffering from this condition, specific cervical vertigo exercises can help.

Here are a few exercises to try:

Head movement

Sit down with your eyes open, then move your head up and down 20 times. Once you have completed this exercise, turn your head side to side 20 times. You should start slowly and speed up when you get used to the exercise. When dizziness starts to improve, you can try doing the same moves, only with your eyes closed.

Shoulder exercises

While sitting, shrug your shoulders up and down 20 times. When finished, turn your shoulders left to right 20 times. The next step is to stay seated and bend over as if you are picking something up off the floor, then straighten up. This movement can be repeated 20 times as well.

Standing exercises

This is a more advanced exercise that you can tackle after you have mastered the seated exercises. Sit down and stand up 20 times with your eyes open. When you feel you are ready, try it again, only with your eyes closed. As the dizziness starts to subside, you can try speeding up the exercise. This can also progress to walking. Walk across the room with your eyes open and then with your eyes closed. Making sure there is someone in the room to help guide you is the safest approach.

Most doctors will suggest a full hour of these exercises each day, with a break of five minutes or so in between sessions. It is important that you have a lot of space to perform the exercises and clear the area of any objects or debris that could cause injury in the event that you lose your balance. Having someone with you when you first start your exercise program is not only a good safety measure, but can help motivate you.

Keep in mind that some dizziness with these exercises is normal in the beginning. If you are in pain or feel really unwell, you should stop.

Treatment and prognosis of cervical vertigo

Cervical vertigo treatment does depend on the cause. You could feel better following exercises or a combination of exercise and medications. Home remedies for cervical vertigo can also be applied in some situations. Home remedies are approaches that focus on lifestyle adjustments. For example, if poor posture is causing disc degeneration and vertigo, making changes to improve posture at home and at work can be very helpful.

Here are some common treatment options for cervical vertigo:

  • Physical therapy
  • Balancing exercises
  • Chiropractic manipulation
  • Heat or ice pack
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Prescribed painkillers
  • Anti-dizziness medications
  • Orthopaedic devices
  • Massage therapy

So, just how long does cervical vertigo last? Well, it can be different from person-to-person. Some people experience vertigo for a few days, while others suffer with it for several months.

Those who have cervical vertigo due to a neck problem seem to experience the best prognosis. About 75 percent of sufferers report improvement in symptoms following treatment.


Having cervical vertigo is not pleasant and can be rather frustrating. It can take a lot of time and determination to overcome the symptoms. Following your doctor and physical therapist’s advice is crucial. Many people who have suffered from vertigo admit that they were just about to give up when suddenly, their recovery efforts started to pay off.

If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of vertigo, seek medical help as soon as possible before the condition gets worse or leads to a mishap.

Related: How to use essential oils for vertigo and dizziness: Benefits, warnings, and recipes



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