Chiari One Malformation – Acquired By Trauma

Chiari malformation is typically considered a congenital condition, although acquired forms of the condition (like from trauma) have been diagnosed. A Chiari malformation also commonly referred to as cerebellar ectopia

A German pathologist, Professor Hans Chiari, first described abnormalities of the brain at the junction of the skull with the spine in the 1890s. He categorized these in order of severity – types I, II, III, and IV. The term Arnold-Chiari was later applied to the Chiari type II malformation.  On this site we will only be covering the type of Chiari that can be acquired  (through severe whiplash/neck trauma) – Chiari I Malformation.

Acquired Chiari I Malformation is characterized by downward displacement by more than four millimeters, of the cerebellar tonsils beneath the foramen magnum into the cervical spinal canal (mine is 9mm below the foramen magnum on my MRI). This displacement may block the normal pulsations of CSF between the spinal canal and the intracranial space.

Several studies have suggested that a previously undetected Chiari I malformation can be “awakened” as a result of trauma caused during a motor vehicle crash. While these studies determined that head or neck trauma is capable of “triggering” symptoms relating to Chiari I malformations, in a 2010 study, Michael D. Freeman and number of other experts asked: could motor vehicle crash trauma actually be the sole cause of a Chiari I malformation? The answer is that it’s definitely possible.

Established research has already concluded that Chiari malformation can be acquired (i.e. non-congenital). In a procedure known as lumbar shunting, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels are reduced in order to ease intracranial pressure in patients with neurological disorders, excessive drainage of spinal fluid from the lumbar or thoracic areas of the spine due to injury, exposure to harmful substances, or infection.

In some cases, reduced CSF levels can allow the brain to drop in the skull to the point that the cerebellum pushes through the foramen magnum, in effect causing a Chiari malformation. This occurs because the flotation level of the brain is dependent on the amount of CSF within the dural covering of the spine and brain. There is also clinical evidence showing that dural leaks causing reduced CSF levels are in fact associated with whiplash trauma. Accordingly, it is quite possible that whiplash trauma could cause a dural leak that results in Chiari I malformation.


Image result for chiari one malformation

Chiari Malformation Following an Auto Accident

Regardless of whether or not trauma from a wreck triggers preexisting asymptomatic Chiari I malformation or actually causes it, research indicates that symptoms of Chiari I malformations are substantially more prevalent in whiplash-injured patients. If you suffer head or neck trauma in a wreck, especially whiplash, you may develop symptoms resulting from a Chiari I malformation. With whiplash, the head moves violently forward then backwards. This is known as an acceleration/deceleration mechanism injury. During such, the cerebellar tonsils can pass through the opening at the bottom of the skull (known as the foramen magnum) and pass into the upper part of the neck. In a study published in the Journal of Brain Surgery written by Professor Michael Freeman and Dr. Ezriel Kornel, a correlation between acceleration/deceleration injuries and symptomatic Chiari was found after reviewing 1200 cervical MRI’s. The study illustrates that a pre-existing congenital Chiari often becomes symptomatic following a motor vehicle collision. Disruption of the CSF results in symptoms including dizziness and disorientation.

A case-control study of cerebellar tonsillar ectopia (Chiari) and head/neck trauma (whiplash)


Type I—which may not cause symptoms—is the most common form of CM and is usually first noticed in adolescence or adulthood, often by accident during an examination for another condition. Type I is the only type of CM that can be acquired. (

Many individuals with the Chiari I malformation do not become symptomatic until adulthood, and the factors that contribute to the onset of symptoms have not been well characterized.  ( )

What are the tests to diagnose a Chiari I Malformation?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses powerful radio waves and magnets to create a detailed view of your body. This safe, painless test produces detailed 3-D images of structural abnormalities in your brain that may be contributing to your symptoms. It can also provide images of the cerebellum and determine whether it extends into the spinal canal. An MRI is often used to diagnose Chiari malformation.

A stand up MRI is recommended if possible as it shows Chiari more clearly.  A regular MRI in a machine where you lay down is the most common ordered though as stand up MRI’s are not yet as prolific.

Computerized tomography (CT) scan. Your doctor may recommend other imaging techniques such as a CT scan. A CT scan uses X-rays to obtain cross-sectional images of your body. A CT scan can help to reveal brain tumors, brain damage, bone and blood vessel abnormalities, and other conditions.

What are the symptoms of Chiari I Malformation?

These structural abnormalities can lead to headaches as well as a variety of other neurological symptoms including:

  • swallowing problems  or speech problems such as hoarseness
  • headaches – often severe, typically precipitated with sudden coughing, sneezing, or straining (usually at the back of the head, and are often made worse by exertion); it is important to remember that trye migraine headaches are rarely caused by Chiari I Malformations
  • neck pain and stiffness
  • muscle weakness
  • Unsteady gait (problems with balance)
  • Poor hand coordination (fine motor skills)
  • numbness in arms, legs, or face
  • dizziness
  • vision problems
  • clumsiness
  • spasticity of the limbs
  • sudden “drop attacks” where the legs seem to buckle for no reason
  • Scars called adhesions may form over time at the site of compression, resulting eventually in a gradual onset of symptoms. A whiplash-type injury or other accident or trauma may cause sudden onset of symptoms
  • hydrocephaluss
  • spinal curvature
  • the most serious complication is a Syringomyelia or syrinx (a cyst within the spinal cord); this may cause weakness, numbness, tingling and/or clumsiness involving the upper and lower extremities

Less often, people with Chiari malformation may experience:

  • Ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Weakness
  • Slow heart rhythm
  • Curvature of the spine (scoliosis) related to spinal cord impairment
  • Abnormal breathing, such as central sleep apnea, characterized by periods of breathing cessation during sleep

Symptoms may be worse when the neck is flexed or extended.


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33 thoughts on “Chiari One Malformation – Acquired By Trauma

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      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been diagnosed with tonsillar ectopsy 3mm since 2012 after I crashed my truck into a tree.slowly over the years I started to notice something wasn’t right. I fainted and headbutted the footboard of my bed. No pain nothing broke or missing, no ER. I made a very poor decision. Since 5-11-2018, I went from 3 or 4 symptoms to 40+ symptoms. The worst ones are muscle weakness in upper and lower extremities, constant dizziness, heart palpatations, irregular heart rate, forgetfullness, confussion, bladder control, kidneys not cleansing normal, anemia,thyriod quit. And im not done.95% of my day is right here in bed. I’ve been to 3 different doctors in mississippi all ignored me. Now I have a temper but I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere. I’m 39 female who went from working 2 to 3 jobs a day 6 days a week to nothing. What can I do to get a doctor to listen or what am I doing wrong? I gave up a long time ago, not sure why I’m still hanging around. And before anyone says anything, yes I spoke with experts took medicine talk to more experts. It doesn’t matter who I talk to it doesn’t change to way I feel when I’m by myself or when the insurance runs out.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was in a car wreck in 11/2018. I received whiplash. I suffer with terrible migraine headaches in the back of my head. I now have visual issues. At times my balance is off and I get dizzy among other things. After the wreck they performed a MRI which shown I had a Mild Chiari 1 malformation. I have never had anything like this. Could the accident be the cause of Chiari 1 malformation from the whiplash?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jamie,

      Yes it could have been caused by a severe whiplash. It could also have been something you were born with and it just became symptomatic due to the whiplash. There is no real way to know unless you had a previous MRI which showed no Chiari or a baseline and now you have one, where you did not before. I would suggest reading my page about Vision Therapy and see if you are able to resonate with anything there Hopefully this will provide you additional resources to further your rehabilitation journey.


  7. On 01-15-2020, my 17 year old daughter was injured in volleyball practice. She is a middle hitter. She did a slide to the right to hit a ball that was set for her. It was supposed to be closer to the net, but she had to adjust back to get to it. Another player came from way behind her to hit the same ball. She got 1/2 way up over my 6’2 daughter from behind. My daughter never saw her coming. When the girl swung to hit the ball, she not only hit the ball. On her downswing , she hit my daughter in the face. This caused a severe concussion & my daughter has had headaches ever since. She missed 3 weeks of school, dropped out of AP Calculus & has struggled to keep her grades up. The doctors have said she has chiari 1 that may have been aggravated by the injury. But, she no symptoms before the injury. She has always seemed to be not quite balanced, but we figured that was to her quick growth. Now we don’t know if she will return to playing it not & being recruited to play I’m college is the air. The doctors only keep giving her medication to help with the pain levels. However, she still has headaches every day. When she goes to jump & hit a volleyball, she feels pressure build up. I feel like we need a 2nd opinion to find out what is really going on inside her head. I’m told that when a volleyball player hits a ball, their arm swing is like 60 mph. Do you have any suggestions? I just want her to recover, not have any headaches, be able to do well in school like she was doing & be able to play volleyball again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charlotte. Some suggestions I would have for everyone sustaining a head injury would be to first and foremost see a vision therapist (one that is trained to provide prism glasses and has specific training) and then an audiologist to check for hearing loss. This was a turning point for me in my care. I still get headaches…however, not nearly to the level that I was getting them. Something else that has helped me manage mine is an anti-inflammatory diet. I also take various supplements aimed at reducing inflammation in my body. Physical therapy from a craniosacral therapist (CST) was also enormously helpful to me along with medical acupuncture and needling (not nearly as painful as it sounds). Every person differs in their own recovery and what has been helping me manage mine since becoming symptomatic may not work for others with the same symptoms. I work very closely with my Providers so they know what I am doing and why and the results of such as I go.


  8. Can this be caused by a downward blow to the crown of the head ? I am 43 years old with a traumatic childhood of abuse . I am suffering from a multitude of symptoms from walking into walls , heart rate – 50 to 100+ in minutes. Heart problems, dizziness, neck pain , shoulder pain , numbness and loss of strength in fingers . Short term memory is horrible so I may not get all the symptoms out . My health has been declining since my 20’s . I live in Canada where there are no doctors who specialize in chairi .

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was wounded in an attack while serving with the US Army Infantry in Iraq around September or October of 2004 from 3 155mm HE artillery rounds that were detonated under my Stryker. The VA diagnosed me with PTSD, neck strain (whiplash injury), and, after 14 years or so, they have finally conceded that I had a TBI. I was not treated by any medics after the incident since we were not yet well versed on the effects of IED’s.

    During the event I was standing with my torso out of the gunner’s hatch of the vehicle with the hatch straight up and down. The blast propelled me forward quickly and then snapped me back where I hit the base of my neck (C1 & C2 area) on the hatch before falling into the vehicle.

    Imaging has been done which shows compression fractures at C1, C2, C5, and C6, along with mild CM1 and syringomyelia at the C6 area of injury and below. The VA, ignoring all of this evidence, states that CM1 is strictly congenital.

    Is it possible that a concussive blast from an IED, coupled with a whiplash injury / TBI could have caused a Chiari Type I malformation?

    Is there somewhere I can go that would help me fight this issue? Is there a medical expert that I could reach out to who could help me figure out if this could possibly be from the incident in Iraq?

    Liked by 1 person

    • First of all thank you for serving our Country. Dealing with the VA can be quite challenging. Sometimes it may even feel like you are butting up against a stone wall when it comes to getting a lot of the providers to listen or examine the latest medical information out there.

      Medical Science is advancing in leaps and bounds daily. As a society, we know more now about Traumatic Brain Injuries, Trauma Injuries, Blast Injuries, Whiplash, and CM1 now than even a year ago.

      The truth is that when left untreated or without appropriate medical care syringomyelia and Chiari both could lead to life-threatening complications including brain stem compression and subsequent herniation, respiratory compromise, cardiovascular abnormalities, central and obstructive sleep apneas, and paralysis to name a few but there are more. This may or may not apply to you.

      Now, finding a Provider who is adequately trained to not only recognize this and treat it, is even more challenging. It takes a lot of research, phone calls, and emails to find someone who thinks outside the box; and tunnel vision is seen frequently with complex cases such as yours.

      You asked if it possible that a concussive blast from an IED, coupled with a whiplash injury / TBI could have caused a Chiari Type I malformation. I wish I could give you a definitive answer. I guess I would say that science shows that it is possible for a CM1 to be caused by whiplash/trauma, it would be worth having investigated further by someone actually trained in the field.

      As far as where to go or who to contact. I am more than happy to share some of the resources I have located. Hopefully you find some of them useful.


    • It has been proven by Research in Multiple Countries. I am not sure if any of the research is Sweden specific. Various forms of medical discovery posted for public view are often adopted by patients and or providers in the Countries other than where they were written or discovered at. A good bet would be to speak with your local providers about how to go about acquiring additional information or application in Sweden.

      Liked by 1 person

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