Beauty Parlour Syndrome

With Iona Collins -

Do you ever feel dizzy when you stretch your head backwards? Beauty Parlour Syndrome is a phenomenon whereby when you extend your neck backwards to have your hair washed, the vertebral arteries carry less blood, resulting in dizziness.

The medical term for Beauty Parlour Syndrome is Vertebrobasilar Insufficiency Syndrome, or VBI for short. Some have also called it VBI Bowman’s syndrome. The V is for the vertebral artery which runs through holes in the spine and the B is for the basilar part of the brain, which controls crucial bodily functions such as breathing as well as less vital roles such as balance and vision. If the vertebral arteries were permanently blocked, then we would have a stroke affecting the back part of the brain, which could prove to be fatal. It is generally agreed in scientific publications that one in five strokes involve the back of the brain and therefore, are associated with some sort of problem involving the vertebral arteries.

Schematic diagram (right) of the spinal column in the neck, looking at the front. The diagram of the spinal column demonstrates how the vertebral arteries are threaded through a hole in each vertebral body. When the neck moves around, the vertebral arteries glide within the holes (vertebral artery foraminae) in the neck, with no influence on the blood flow within the blood vessels.

Problems arise, however, when we have reduced blood flow within the vertebral arteries.

We can reduce blood flow by making the artery wall thicker, which we can achieve by eating a lot of red meat and smoking, as well as being overweight and encouraging the development of diabetes. Our narrowed arteries cause our hearts to work harder to pump the blood to its required destinations, such as the brain and before we know it, we need blood pressure tablets, cholesterol tablets and blood sugar tablets to reduce our risk of having disabling strokes and heart attacks. It can be quite difficult to unpick the cause of the dizziness, when all the pills that we end up taking can cause dizziness as a side effect, for example.

We can also reduce blood flow by placing pres-sure on the artery from outside, such as with wear and tear in the neck. We develop wear and tear in the neck by a lifetime of imperfect posture. We can significantly challenge our poor necks by dozing in front of the TV- a seemingly harmless activity, but, in fact, we are dropping our 5Kg-weighted heads forwards onto our chests and transmitting prolonged and excessive flexion forces into our necks, encouraging our shock-absorbing discs to wear out with develop-ment of extra bony growth or osteophytes, which create spurs and stiffen up our necks. If our vertebral arteries cannot glide when the neck is moved, or else the arteries are kinked by bony spurs when we rotate our necks, then we risk getting dizzy and unbalanced as the blood supply to the back of the brain is temporarily reduced. This cause of VBI is not often reported and may either reflect a low chance of developing VBI in this manner, or else it may be due to the diffi-culty with proving that the neck arthrtis is the cause of the dizziness. There is a large volume of evidence supporting generalised vascular disease as a reason for developing VBI symptoms, but proving that a neck position causes obstructed vertebral artery flow involves more complicated tests than a standard angiogram, for example.

This verterba (right) is a plastic replica (courtesy of Dynamic Disc Designs. Thank you Jerome!), which has extra bone, or osteophytes, developing and growing out toward the vertebral artery foraminae.

The key to managing VBI is first of all, recognising the symptoms and identifying the triggers for the dizzy attacks. Other conditions can mimic VBI and an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon would probably be the most expert healthcare professional at sieving through the possible causes of the dizzy symptoms. If VBI is due to atherosclerosis, many people think that blood thinning medication can help to reduce the risk of suffering a stroke. A good way to avoid developing VBI would be to eat healthily, never smoke, maintain a healthy weight and maintain a flexible spine with regular stretching exercises. Adopting a good posture from a young age should protect us from developing a range of different problems as we age, including the possibility of developing VBI.

For a comprehensive review of this under-reported syndrome, here is a useful link online:

Or as a bitly abbreviation: htts://

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