By Dennis Yang

Western medicine divides dizziness into two categories; lightheadedness where you feel like fainting or vomiting, and vertigo where you or the surroundings seem to spin around.  While this categorization may help determine which pills to prescribe, it fails to differentiate what bodily malfunctions are responsible for dizziness.  For this reason, I categorize dizziness differently; whether you feel dizzy while being still or when moving.

Dizziness while remaining still has two causes that result in the brain not receiving sufficient blood.  One, you may have anemia.  Two, stiff neck muscles may prevent sufficient blood from flowing to the brain.  It is for these reasons that dehydration can cause dizziness, and drinking enough water can oftentimes cure mild and acute dizziness.


Dizziness with movement is an entirely different pathology altogether, and it comes from the stiffness in sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscles at the front of the neck, especially the clavicular head of SCM.  I give full credit to Janet Travell MD, the personal physician to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, who discovered trigger points for this discovery.  According to her, the clavicular head of SCM is the chief muscular source of proprioceptive orientation of the head, telling us where our heads are in space.  My interpretation of this observation is that when this muscle is tense, there is a mismatch between the sensory positional feedback from the muscle and the actual position of the head, creating positional dizziness.

There is enough dietary information available for curing anemia, so I will focus on non-dietary methods.  The most critical one is thorough chewing.  Average Americans digest only about 15% of the protein in red meat mainly because we inhale food without chewing enough, for example.  Experts say we need to chew at least 36 times per mouthful before swallowing food.  Count how many times you chew next time you eat.  It will most likely be around several times, if that.  The chewing action not only mechanically breaks down the solid food so that the rest of the digestive system does not have to work that much harder to liquefy the food, but also mixes the food with the digestive enzymes in saliva.  Counting how many times you chew is too cumbersome, however.  Instead, chew until you cannot help but swallow the food because it has been thoroughly pulverized.  All the blood-building foods will then be properly digested to do their job.

The next critical one is drinking beverages after, not before or while, eating food.  This practice prevents the beverages from diluting the digestive enzymes in the stomach, and encourages more chewing.  This is counter to American culture where the first thing you are asked when you sit down at a restaurant is “what would you like to drink,” but in some other cultures, like Korean, drinking is a separate activity that follows eating.  This practice is not easy to do, but when it becomes a habit, you will notice not only improved digestion, such as improved acid reflux, but also less food consumption.  Follow the “drinking 8 glasses of water” type of practice between meals.

Loosening stiff neck muscles is much easier to do.  The brain receives blood from the internal carotid arteries and the vertebral arteries.  When the muscles in the neck become overly tight, they can squeeze these arteries enough to slow down the blood supply to the brain.  Please refer to my “Headache and Neck Tension” article to learn how to remedy this.

Releasing SCM to treat dizziness with movement is simple, but quite painful.  Using your thumb and index finger, you squeeze and massage the muscle hard, along its entire length as depicted in the picture.  It does not matter whether you massage one side at a time, or both at the same time.  You may find that the muscle is exquisitely tender and that you just cannot apply enough pressure to adequately release the muscle yourself.  In that case, ask someone to do it for you while you lie down facing up.  Gentle massage will not do much for this muscle.  When done correctly, much of the tenderness and the positional dizziness will disappear within one treatment session.  I have witnessed this enough times in my clinic, even for decades-old chronic cases.

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