Can A Pinched Nerve In The Neck Cause Dizziness?

Can A Pinched Nerve In The Neck Cause Dizziness?

The cervical spine is numbered from C1 to C7 beginning from above. C1 to C7 vertebra in the neck conjointly form the cervical spine. This C1 to C7 supports the neck and is called the Cervical Spine.

Each vertebra of the spine is separated from each other by intervertebral discs. These discs work as shock absorbers and maintain the normal curvature of the spine. These intervertebral discs also enable movements of the spine and gradually degenerate with age as a normal process of wear and tear.

The nerve which innervates out vital organs as well as peripheral parts of the body originate from the spine. This is the reason they are called Nerve Roots.

A pinched nerve in any region of the spine is called Radiculopathy. Hence Cervical Rediculopathy is the term used for pinched nerve in the neck.

Pinched Nerve In The Neck Background and Causes

Cervical radiculopathy can affect people right from adolescents to adults and old age. Out of all the cervical nerve roots, C6 and C7 nerve root are most commonly affected.

1. In the age group of 20-30 years of age, disc herniation and injury are primary causes for a pinched nerve in the neck. About 20-25% of cases occur due to disc herniation.
2. In older patients,

  • Narrowing of Cervical Foramen (cervical spine stenosis) – This is the most common cause for a pinched nerve in the neck in patients above 60 years of age.
  • Reduced disc space
  • Formation of osteophytes
  • Degenerative changes of the spine – the discs become less spongy and stiff. It can also cause inflammation occasionally.

3. Over lifting, smoking, regular prolonged driving and using heavy vibrating equipment are major risk factors for having a pinched nerve in the neck.
4. Tumors of the spine, synovial cyst and spinal joint infections are less common causes for cervical radiculopathy.
5. Repetitive movements of the neck and overextension, lateral bending and sudden flexion can be major causes of cervical radiculopathy in athletes.

Pinched Nerve In The Neck Signs and Symptoms

A pinched nerve in the neck can present with the following signs and symptoms. However, location and radiation of symptoms entirely depend upon the nerve root affected.

  1. Pain and weakness in a specific part of the neck or arm. This is usually assessed by a visual analogue scale. Neck pain is usually bilateral. Whereas pain radiating to the arm is usually unilateral.
  2. Pain is described as sharp or burning in character and is generally worse from the extension of the neck or rotation.
  3. Pressure or traction on the nerve root may relieve pain temporarily.
  4. Tingling and numbness along with pain are in affected part is almost always present.

Can A Pinched Nerve in the Neck Cause Dizziness?

Another prominent presentation apart from neck pain and tingling numbness is dizziness. Plenty of documented researches prove that a pinched nerve in the neck can cause dizziness.

Dizziness or vertigo is the words used by patients to explain the subjective sensation of their surroundings moving or spinning. Cervical vertigo is a term commonly used for dizziness arising due to structural or functional illnesses or abnormalities of the neck. A pinched nerve in the neck can cause dizziness due to certain movements or postures of the neck.

5 Proposed Theories for Dizziness Arising Out of Pinched Nerve in the Neck

  1. Compromised Vascular Supply – Due to compression, spasm or dissection (tear in the wall of the artery which causes blood to enter in between layers of the artery) of vertebral arteries blood supply is reduced due to a specific neck posture or neck movements.
  2. Sensory Input – To the brain from the neck may be irregular, too much or even absent. The position of head and neck is determined by sensory input to the brain along with inputs from the ears and eyes. These inputs maintain the balance of the whole body.
  3. Compression of Cervical Cord – This is the most common documented cause for dizziness due to a pinched nerve in the neck.
  4. Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Leakage – This may occur due to a tear in cervical nerve root covering. Dizziness and headache are major signs and symptoms.
  5. Injuries to the neck which cause a pinched nerve can potentially damage structures of the ear as well. This can result in dizziness or vertigo.

Whiplash injuries of the neck or head injuries are the most common causes of dizziness in patients having a pinched nerve in the neck.

Nearly 28-50% cases of cervical vertigo occur due to trauma or injuries. Other factors for a pinched nerve in the neck are rare causes for dizziness or vertigo.

[Read – Reasons For Lump on Back of Neck Near Spine]

What Are Other Causes for Dizziness?

Dizziness is not a disease in itself. It is a feature of a variety of other clinical conditions other than cervical radiculopathy.

About 40% cases of dizziness are due to vestibular dysfunction, 10% due to central nervous system lesions, 25%due to pre-syncope or disequilibrium and 15% due to psychiatric illnesses and nearly 10% is non-specific dizziness.

If you have dizziness without a pinched nerve in the neck, this list of causes for dizziness may help you understand what may have gone wrong.

  1. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) – This is the most common cause of vertigo or dizziness. Calcium carbonate crystals get trapped in the posterior semi lunar canal. This results in dizziness on moving the head. BPPV affects females more commonly.
  2. Meniere’s Disease – This condition typically affects persons between 20-40 years of age. Excess of endolymph fluid pressure in the inner ear is the cause fort this condition. Dizziness is severe which lasts for few minutes to even hours and is associated with imbalance, nausea and vomiting.
  3. Vestibular Neuronitis/ Labyrinthitis – Vertigo is severe and associated with nausea, vomiting and loss of balance. Dizziness lasts from a few hours to even days or weeks together. Hearing loss may also be present. Viral infection or inflammation of part of the cranial nerve supplying to the ear is the cause for this condition.
  4. Pre Syncope – This is described by patients as a feeling of warmth, blurring of vision and light headedness before an episode of syncope. Syncope is a transient, reduced blood supply to the brain resulting in unconsciousness.
  5. Psychiatric Disorders – Anxiety, depression and other mental conditions can cause vague dizziness. Psychiatric diseases are the most common reasons for non-specific dizziness.
  6. Head Injury and Hypoglycemia: Reduced blood sugar levels are some other causes of non specific dizziness.
  7. Migrainous Vertigo – This condition is being increasingly recognized. Vertigo or dizziness lasts for hours to even days. Anything that triggers a migraine can trigger dizziness also. The cause of this vertigo is due to a problem with the ear.
  8. Multiple Sclerosis – Vertigo or dizziness is observed in about 20-50% of patients having multiple sclerosis. Vertigo lasts for about a few days to even weeks.
  9. Brainstem Ischemia – A Transient reduction of blood supply to the brain stem results in dizziness which lasts for about few minutes. Other symptoms may be present corresponding to the area of brain stem affected disturbed speech, vision or even imbalance.

Although most causes for dizziness are relatively harmless and easily manageable. Dizziness can occasionally also be a presentation of a more severe disturbance of your economy. For this reason, dizziness, even though transient, should not be over looked. Immediate medical attention should be sought for it.

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Kaushal M. Bhavsar (MBBS, MD)Assistant Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad