Feelings of vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance are more common than most people realize; 42 percent of the American population (90 million people) experience this at least once during their lifetime, and for many the situation becomes chronic. Dizziness is the number 1 reason that people over the age of seventy five visit doctors, and falls due to a loss of balance are the leading cause of death and serious injury in people over the age of 65.
Most (seventy five percent) of these cases are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders in the inner ear; examples of these conditions include labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula, Ménière’s disease, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma. All of these conditions affect the inner ear and the delicate system that handles our sense of balance and enables us to maintain control over it. Most of the cases of vertigo and dizziness occur in adults, but these conditions can affect children as well, with even greater impact because they are often involved with athletics or playground activities in which a sense of balance is key.
These conditions can be treated with surgery and drugs, but there is another treatment methodology that uses physical therapy to stimulate and retrain the vestibular system and provide relief – Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT). Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy exercises are prescribed individually for each patient’s specific symptoms and often involve the use of gait training, head movements and eye exercises designed to improve patients’ gaze and stability. The goals of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy are to improve balance, minimize falls, decrease the subjective experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when walking or moving, improve coordination, and reduce the anxiety they often feel as a result of their condition.
VRT has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms for many people suffering from the conditions mentioned above, and for those with other forms of bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss. The effectiveness of VRT in patients suffering from these conditions who did not respond to earlier treatment methodologies has been proven in several clinical trials. On the other hand, Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy is not as likely to be beneficial if the underlying cause of vertigo or dizziness is due to transient ischemic attacks (TIA), reactions to medications, migraine headaches, anxiety or depression or low blood pressure.
Because the specific exercises in a regimen of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy vary according to the patient’s symptoms and conditions, it is not easy to give an overview of them. But are all taught by trained Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy therapists, and often involve movements of the head, eyes, and body that enable your brain and body to retrain themselves and regain control over their equilibrium and balance, compensating more effectively for the incorrect information sent to them from their inner ear. If you have experienced long-term symptoms of vertigo or dizziness, consult a balance specialist and ask for more information. You may also want to contact the Vestibular Disorders Association and take advantage of many of their short publications and resource materials.