Over ninety million people (42% of the United State population) experience feelings of vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this experience becomes a long-term condition. 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 percent) of these cases are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders in the inner ear; examples of these conditions include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma, labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula and Ménière’s disease. These disorders cause abnormalities in the delicate areas of the inner ear that disrupt our ability to maintain and control our sense of balance. 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).
VRT 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.
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. 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 dizziness or vertigo is due to reactions to medications, migraine headaches, anxiety or depression, transient ischemic attacks (TIA) 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 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.