Acupuncture for dizziness and vertigo

Acupuncture for dizziness and vertigo

27 April 2015 by Caitlin Armit

What is dizziness & vertigo?

Most people have experienced the sensation of dizziness or light-headedness – perhaps when you have been ill, when you haven’t eaten or when you have been feeling very tired. The terms dizziness & vertigo are often used interchangeably however they do have distinguishing features. Dizziness is generally described as a subjective sensation where you feel like you might faint due to a spinning sensation internally.

Vertigo, on the other hand, is a perception that your external environment is spinning but you remain still. Both are common medical issues which tend to come and go and both may coincide with loss of balance, nausea and vomiting. Most sources estimate that 20-30% of the population have experienced vertigo and it is generally more common in women than men.


Western Medicine Diagnosis

There are 3 main diagnoses for vertigo in the Western Medicine framework:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
  • Meniere’s Disease – hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
  • Vestibular neuritis or labrynthitis – from infections (usually viral but can be bacterial) which cause damage to the inner ear or to nerves of the inner ear responsible for communicating sensory information to the brain stem and cerebellum (balance, motion, coordination)

Dizziness and vertigo may also occur alongside trauma, fever, migraines and excessive alcohol intake.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is probably the most common diagnosis. It is a condition where tiny calcium carbonate particles (‘otoconia’) form clusters in the ear canals. This causes vertigo because signals from the inner ear communicate with the brain stem and cerebellum to maintain our balance and sense of motion and the clusters of calcium particles disrupt this communication. This type of vertigo often has an acute onset (occurs with sudden head movement in a certain direction) and can be very frightening and distressing to the person experiencing it.


Western Medicine Treatment

Western medicine treatment options may include medication, surgery or movement techniques such as the Epley manoeuvre or the Half Somersault manoeuvre. These techniques should be taught by a trained professional and can then be performed at home when vertigo symptoms occur. Both manoeuvres utilise gravity by positioning the head in such a way that the dislodged calcium carbonate crystals return to their original position. For many people this is an empowering tool that reduces the stress and anxiety associated with experiencing vertigo. A 2012 study compared the efficacy of the Epley manoeuvre and Half Somesault manoeuvre and found that the half somersault manoeuvre is better tolerated and has fewer side effects.


Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine for dizziness & vertigo. 

Chinese Medicine has four main diagnoses for dizziness and vertigo which can be distinguished by underlying emotional factors, lifestyle factors, digestion and eating habits, age and accompanying signs and symptoms. During a consultation, your practitioner will ask a variety of questions about all aspects of your current and past health. We use this information in accompaniment with an examination of your tongue and pulse to formulate a diagnosis which is likely to be one of the following:

  • Liver yin deficiency with a rising of yang or wind
  • Spleen/stomach deficiency with obstruction of phlegm/dampness
  • Qi and blood deficiency
  • Kidney jing deficiency.

Clearly these diagnoses sound foreign and ridiculous to anyone untrained in Chinese Medicine so please don’t take this terminology literally or try to translate it into western terms. The treatment goal is to rid the body of any pathogenic factor (wind, damp, phlegm, fire etc) and to nourish the organs with an underlying deficiency (ie. aspects of the body which are not functioning optimally and thereby enabling pathogens to create this sensation of dizziness or vertigo). The acupuncture points we select may vary slightly depending on whether you visit the clinic during an episode of dizziness or vertigo or if you are requiring maintenance treatments to reduce the frequency of it’s occurrence.

Acupuncture is gentle and soothing and every care is taken to ensure your comfort during treatment. The aim is to improve your quality of life in as many ways as we possibly can so if there are other health concerns which become apparent during your consultation we will discuss this with you also.


Herbal Formulas and Dietary Advice

There are several herbal formulas which can be used to treat dizziness and vertigo and these are carefully selected according to each individuals Chinese Medicine diagnosis. In terms of dietary advice, reducing salt intake is particularly important to avoid fluid retention and lower pressure in the inner ear. From a Chinese Medicine perspective it is also important to reduce alcohol and sugar intake and greasy foods as these contribute to heat and damp pathogens in the body.



A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis evaluated the efficacy and safety of acupuncture for the treatment of cervical vertigo (CV). It included 10 studies with a total of 914 participants and results showed that “acupuncture was more effective than conventional medicine therapy (CMT) in effectiveness, improvement rate of vertigo and headache, and increased average blood flow velocity of vertebral-basilar artery. In the subgroup analysis, the results did not change in different acupuncture methods and drug categories substantially.”

Unfortunately due to factors such as methodological reporting and small sample sizes, the quality of evidence for these outcomes was considered to be low. The researchers state that acupuncture appeared to be a “promising therapeutic approach for CV” but noted that more large-scale and high-quality trials are required to provide stronger evidence in the form of modern research.


A Comparison of Two Home Exercises for Benign Positional Vertigo: Half Somersault versus Epley Maneuver

Efficacy and safety of acupuncture for dizziness and vertigo in emergency department: a pilot cohort study

The Efficacy of Acupuncture for the Treatment of Cervical Vertigo: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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