Insight Neurosurgery – Chiari malformation (CM) is a condition where the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance, descends into the spinal canal. It can cause a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, neck pain, and coordination issues. About one in every 1,000 people in the United States experiences CM and it generally occurs when part of the skull is misshapen or smaller than is typical.

Many people learn they have CM after undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam for another issue and have no symptoms or need for treatment. Others experience mild symptoms that can be managed with medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications. In rare cases, more severe issues such as loss of motor skills are possible and may even require surgery.

Fortunately, with an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan, most people with CM are able to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. If you suspect you may have Chiari malformation, here are 10 symptoms and signs it may be time to visit a healthcare professional.


Persistent headaches, often near the back of the head, are a common symptom of Chiari malformation. These headaches may worsen with coughing, sneezing, or straining.

Neck Pain

If you experience chronic neck pain, it may be another sign you have Chiari malformation. Neck pain associated with CM is generally described as dull, aching, or a sharp discomfort.

Balance & Coordination Problems

Issues with balance and coordination, including walking and fine motor skills, are common with Chiari malformation.


Dizziness or vertigo is often experienced in those with CM. This is especially common during sudden movements or when standing up from a seated position.

Vision Difficulties

Chiari malformation is known to impact the optic nerves, which can lead to vision issues such as double vision or difficulty focusing.

Trouble Swallowing

It is also common to experience trouble swallowing if you have CM. This is known as dysphagia and can impact your ability to eat, drink, and take medication.

Nausea & Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are not directly related to Chiari malformation, but may occur after physical exertion or exercise.

Tingling & Numbness

If you are experiencing tingling or numbness, particularly in the hands and feet, it could be a sign of CM.

Sleep Apnea

Certain sleep issues, including breathing problems like sleep apnea, are possible in those with Chiari malformation.

Ringing Ears

Ringing or buzzing in the ears, also known as tinnitus, may occur in some people with Chiari malformation.

It is important to remember that Chiari malformation does not always cause noticeable symptoms and some people may be unaware of their condition. However, if you suspect CM or are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. A thorough evaluation and diagnosis is essential to improve your wellbeing and prevent potential complications. If you would like more information about Chiari malformation or are experiencing any of the above symptoms, contact Insight Neurosurgery today to schedule an appointment.


Q: Is there a cure for Chiari malformation?

A: Chiari malformation is not curable. However, symptoms and complications can be managed effectively in most people through a personalized management plan that includes observation and treatments to improve strength, flexibility, and overall health.

Q: At what age is Chiari malformation most commonly diagnosed?

A: In most people, Chiari malformation is present at birth but symptoms are not noticed or diagnosed until later in childhood or adulthood. In some cases, people with Chiari malformation do not experience any symptoms and will learn of the condition by accident during diagnostic imaging for an unrelated issue.

Q: Are there effective at home treatments for Chiari malformation?

A: Some people are able to find relief from certain Chiari malformation symptoms through various lifestyle adjustments, such as staying adequately hydrated, adopting proper neck posture, avoiding strenuous activities, and engaging in regular low-impact exercise. Patients should always work closely with their healthcare team and discuss home treatments to address specific symptoms and needs.