Vertigo vs Dizziness

Vertigo and dizziness are often used as interchangeable terms although they are quite different.  

Dizziness is when you feel like you are moving or spinning and your surroundings are stationary.  Vertigo is the opposite it is when you feel stationary, and you feel your surroundings are moving or spinning.


Vertigo, which is an illusion of movement, is a well-defined symptom. You feel as if your surroundings are spinning or moving.  Vertigo is often caused by a disorder of the vestibular system which is one of the main systems that control your balance.

Causes of vertigo can be central (brain) or peripheral (ear, eyes, neck). Central causes of vertigo are often accompanied by other neurological symptoms where peripheral causes are often limited to symptoms of vertigo only.

If central causes of vertigo are suspected referral to a neurologist is likely indicated.  For more common causes chiropractic care can often be a safe and effective treatment option.

The most common cause of peripheral vertigo is a condition called benign positional vertigo (BPV). Other causes include Meniere’s disease, drug reactions, neck induced vertigo (cervicogenic vertigo) and some more significant neurologic diseases.

When talking about vertigo there are 3 main systems that help you maintain your balance and upright posture.  Your inner ear, your eyes, and your neck.  When your brain receives conflicting information from one or more of these systems you can get vertigo.

For example, if you are on a ride that spins around, your eyes will tell your brain that you are spinning (because you are) but your head is still so receptors in your ear and your neck tell your brain that you are stationary.  These conflicting signals can confuse your brain and result in vertigo.

In the case of benign positional vertigo (BPV) dysfunction in your inner ear tell your brain that you are rotating even when you are not.  Meanwhile your neck and eyes tell your brain that you are not moving.  Just like in the example above this can result in vertigo.

Vertigo can be quite debilitating and can be associated with nausea and sometimes vomiting.

Treatment of vertigo depends on the underlying cause.  For common causes of vertigo (benign positional vertigo and cervicogenic vertigo) your chiropractor can prescribe a plan that may include adjustments to your neck and certain exercises that can effectively resolve your vertigo.    In many cases  the results can be quite dramatic and even significant cases of vertigo can resolve quickly.


It is a less specific term that is often used for a variety of complaints including vague feelings of unsteadiness, light headedness, feeling faint, or severe acute vertigo.

Because it an imprecise term there are many explanations for dizziness, some medications can be responsible, low blood pressure, dehydration, low blood sugar, anxiety, heart conditions etc.

Given the vague and imprecise nature of dizziness there are obviously a wide variety of treatment and management strategies depending on the cause of the dizziness.  For this reason, a thorough evaluation is required before arriving at a treatment strategy.  

This evaluation should include an examination of the musculoskeletal system, vestibular system (eyes, ears, neck) and the nervous system.  Sometimes a full medical workup may be indicated.

If you or anyone you know suffers from dizziness or vertigo we would be happy to help.

Dr. Russell Baron


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