Chiari Malformation: Symptoms, Causes and Diagnosis

Chiari Malformation is a condition in which the spinal canal is invaded by brain tissue.

It happens when the brain is pressed against and forced downward by an abnormally shaped skull or structural defects in the brain and spinal cord.

This causes the brain to bulge through an opening in the skull and puts pressure on the brain and spinal cord.

Sounds painful?

Mild to severe symptoms may occur, but, in fact, some people might not have symptoms at all.

Read on to learn more about Chiari Malformation, whether it can be treated, and how Upper Cervical Chiropractic care has been helpful for Chiari sufferers.

Symptoms of Chiari Malformation

flow of cerebrospinal fluid in tethered cord syndrome

Chiari Malformation may cause no symptoms in some, while others may exhibit symptoms like:

  • muscle weakness
  • dizziness
  • problems with balance and coordination
  • numbness
  • headaches
  • vision problems

However, the symptoms may differ depending on the type and severity of Chiari Malformation.

Types of Chiari Malformations

Chiari Malformation is accompanied by a wide range of symptoms that vary depending on the type. Most Chiari Malformation patients have no symptoms and are frequently diagnosed by chance due to their complex nature.

Type I Chiari Malformation

Symptoms of Chiari Malformation Type I generally appear in late childhood or early adulthood.

In the case of Type I Chiari Malformation, the lower section of the cerebellum extends into an opening at the base of the skull, which causes severe headaches for those with type I Chiari Malformation.

Additionally, those who have Chiari Malformation type I may encounter symptoms such as:

  • A sore neck

  • Erratic gait (problems with balance)

  • Uncoordinated hand movement (fine motor skills)

  • Numbness and tingling of the hands and feet

  • Dizziness

  • Difficulty swallowing, sometimes accompanied by gagging, choking and vomiting

  • Speech problems, such as hoarseness

Type II Chiari Malformation

The symptoms of Chiari Malformation type II are more severe than Chiari Malformation type I and typically appear in children born with spina bifida.

The characteristics of Chiari Malformation type II can include symptoms connected to myelomeningocele, a kind of spina bifida condition in which the spinal cord and column do not join properly during fetal development.

Typically, a type II Chiari Malformation can be diagnosed through an ultrasound or in early infancy.

Some signs and symptoms of Chiari II Malformation include:

  • Changes in breathing pattern, including periods of apnea (brief periods of cessation of breathing)

  • Swallowing problems, such as gagging

  • Involuntary, rapid, downward eye movements

  • Loss of arm strength

Type III Chiari Malformation

Chiari Malformation type III is the most rare and severe type.

In this type of Chiari Malformation, a section of the brainstem or the cerebellum’s lower back aspect protrudes through the back of the skull.

Affected individuals may experience symptoms similar to Chiari malformation type II, but more life-threatening complications usually accompany it.

Diagnosed at birth or with an ultrasound, the death rate for Chiari Malformation type III is significantly higher and often results in neurological issues.

Diagnosed infants may experience additional symptoms such as:

  • Seizures

  • Mental delay

  • Physical delay

Type IV Chiari Malformation

Unlike types I-III, type IV Chiari Malformation involves an incomplete or undeveloped cerebellum.

In this rare type, the cerebellum is in its normal position, but parts of it are missing, and portions of the skull and spinal cord may be visible.

Considered fatal, most babies born with this malformation do not survive infancy.

Causes of Chiari Malformation

checking the spinal fluid and spinal cord passes

The most common causes of Chiari Malformations are structural issues in the brain and spinal cord. These defects will manifest as the foetus develops.

Usually, due to genetic abnormalities (such as spina bifida or base of skull deformities), Chiari Malformation develops when the sunken bony region at the base of the skull is unusually small, which consequently causes the cerebellum to be under pressure.

This prevents the cerebrospinal fluid from flowing and protecting the brain.

Although most Chiari Malformations happen when the foetus is developing, they can develop later in life, but very rarely. This can occur if too much cerebrospinal fluid is removed as a result of:

  • injury
  • infection
  • exposure to toxic substances

Treatment of Chiari Malformation

chiari malformation

The treatment for Chiari Malformations differs depending on the type and its symptoms.

Chiari Malformations do not require treatment if there are no symptoms or if it doesn’t interfere with daily activities. However, drugs can be used to control symptoms like pain.

In serious cases of Chiari Malformation, surgery is the only option for relieving symptoms or stopping the progression of central nervous system injury.

Several types of surgery can be performed as treatment which include:

Posterior fossa decompression surgery

This involves removing a small portion of the bottom of the skull and sometimes part of the spinal column to correct the irregular bony structure.

The goal is to create additional space for the cerebrospinal fluid to circulate.


This uses high-frequency electrical currents to shrink the lower part of the cerebellum.

Spinal laminectomy

This is the removal of part of the arched, bony roof of the spinal canal. The goal is to increase the canal’s size and reduce pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Chiropractic Treatment of Chiari Malformation

Although some patients experience a reduction in their symptoms, there is no guarantee that surgery will help every individual.

Most patients will seek out alternative treatments first, considering the risks of going under the knife. Chiropractic care has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to relieve their symptoms.

Thus, Chiropractic care, specifically that which targets the Upper Cervical area (influencing the upper spinal cord), is a suitable alternative to address Chiari Malformations.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care is utilized to create more space for the lower cerebellum, brain stem, and higher spinal cord.

Vitality Chiropractic Centres offers Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care for patients suffering from Chiari malformation.

Our experienced Chiropractors will carefully realign the vertebra in the upper neck using cutting-edge imaging technology and special methods to provide some relief for Chiari malformation patients.

Manage Your Symptoms Now with Vitality Chiropractic Centres!

If you are experiencing any symptoms of Chiari Malformation, you should seek out a professional for an appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

At Vitality Chiropractic Centres, our mission has always been to help our patients take their lives back.

This means no shortcuts, only long-term solutions from our well-trained doctors and scientifically proven Chiropractic techniques that promote a high-quality life.

Vitality Chiropractic Centres is the only Upper Cervical Chiropractic Specialist in Singapore that can help you manage your disabling symptoms.

So, what are you waiting for?

Take your life back with Vitality Chiropractic Centres by booking an appointment with our specialists now!

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