Feelings of dizziness, vertigo, and loss of balance are more common than most people realize; fourty two percent of the American population (90 million people) experience this at least once during their lifetime, and for many the condition becomes chronic. In the elderly, dizziness is the most common reason that people over seventy five visit a doctor, and for people over sixty five, falls resulting from a loss of balance are the number one cause of serious injury and death.
Most (75%) of these cases are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders in the inner ear; examples of these conditions include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula, vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma and Ménière’s disease. 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 dizziness and vertigo 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.
There are drug and surgical treatments for these conditions, but one of the alternative therapies is called Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT), a form of physical therapy that uses specialized sets of movements to stimulate and retrain the vestibular system.
Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy exercises are prescribed individually for each patient’s specific symptoms and often involve the use of gait training, eye exercises and head movements designed to improve patients’ gaze and stability. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy cites its goals as seeking to improve balance, decrease the experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when walking or moving, improve coordination, minimize falls, and reduce anxiety.
Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy 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. Several studies have confirmed VRT’s effectiveness in patients who did not respond to other treatment methodologies. 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 low blood pressure, transient ischemic attacks (TIA), reactions to medications, migraine headaches or anxiety or depression.
Because the specific exercises in a regimen of VRT 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 VRT 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 dizziness or vertigo, 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.