How Can Physical Therapy Soothe Vertigo?
Vertigo is the sensation that your surroundings are spinning/swirling while you are remaining still. It’s not a disease itself, but a symptom of something else going on. These symptoms range from mild to severe with a disruption in balance, falling, and being unable to do your daily tasks. Fortunately, vestibular physical therapy can be a successful way to help calm and even resolve this sensation. Physical Therapy can be an option to soothe vertigo symptoms.
What Causes Vertigo?
Central causes of vertigo are due to issues in the brain. These include diagnoses such as traumatic brain injury, tumor, or stroke. It could also be due to cerebellar dysfunction which is the area of the brain responsible for our balance and equilibrium.
Peripheral causes stem from the inner ear, whether it is position-related vertigo or inflammatory conditions, or could also be neck or migraine-related.
The Inner Ear
The inner ear is our vestibular system which is a structure of sensory organs that provide feedback to the brain regarding our movement. The sensory organs include 3 semicircular canals, the utricle, and the saccule. Each ear has a set of these organs and they function together to sense what direction we are moving and if we are speeding up or slowing down. This system helps keep us upright and balanced. Vision and proprioception (the body’s ability to sense movement and location in space) are also components of balance.
We can determine whether your vertigo is central or peripheral based on head position changes, length of time symptoms are present, eye movement, medical history, and specific tests which allow us to select the correct course of treatment.
A common condition of peripheral vertigo is BPPV (benign peripheral paroxysmal vertigo). This condition occurs when calcium crystals called otoconia get dislodged and trapped within the semicircular canals. The crystals will continue to move within the canal even if you stop moving and send incorrect feedback to the brain. Essentially, the brain thinks you’re still moving when you aren’t which leads to the sensation of vertigo.
Vestibular rehabilitation is very successful at resolving BPPV. Based on the position of the canals, the therapist will take you through specific movement tests to determine which canal is involved and then will use canal positioning techniques to guide the otoconia back to their central position. You will experience the sensation of vertigo during the repositioning, but once the calcium crystals are back in the correct spot vertigo will resolve.
What if it’s not BPPV?
Let’s say we test for BPPV and determine it is not the cause of your vertigo/dizziness. Can vestibular rehab still be helpful? Yes!
Based on our other extensive testing of cranial nerves, cerebellar function, visual reflexes, balance, and other activities you are having difficulty with, we will create a specialized plan of care to address the areas that are not optimally functioning. Gaze stabilization exercises are eye and head movement exercises that help recalibrate how the eyes, brain, and vestibular system work together to decrease your dizziness. Balance training including uneven surfaces, changes in foot position, head position, and eyes open or closed can also strengthen the function of the vestibular system. As we strengthen all of these components, you will notice an improvement in your vertigo symptoms.
The Vestibular PT team at Freedom Physical Therapy Services can help improve your vertigo and dizziness symptoms. Schedule your appointment today.