What is Vertigo?
If your day-to-day keeps being interrupted by a disconcerting feeling that your world is spinning, you may be dealing with an unpleasant symptom known as vertigo.
Most usually, vertigo feels like a strong mixture of dizziness and nausea alongside difficulty in maintaining balance. You may feel as if you, or the environment around you, is suddenly moving even when you know that is not the case.
You may be surprised to learn that vertigo is not a condition but, in fact, the consequence of various issues. These include viral infections such as vestibular neuronitis and labyrinthitis, migraines, a problem within the inner ear known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, Ménière’s disease, strokes and transient ischemic attacks, brain tumors and conditions that affect the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis.
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Some people find that their vertigo comes on thanks to excessive visual stimulation, such as the wide array of colors and shapes that are found in a typical supermarket aisle. Additionally, many medications are known to cause vertigo, including certain antibiotics, anti-inflammatory treatments and cardiovascular drugs.
In some cases, depending on the cause of your vertigo, it is also possible to experience a high temperature, ringing in the ears (known as tinnitus) and difficulty hearing. Some people experience the sensation of vertigo in long bouts while others are prone to short and unpredictable ‘attacks’ of the symptom.
Either way, vertigo can prove severely challenging as well as potentially dangerous, particularly in situations where someone is driving or operating machinery. Sudden losses of balance can lead to unexpected falls and injury, all combining to make a compelling case to seek treatment.
There are many different causes of vertigo and, for most people, getting to the root of the problem usually begins with consulting their doctor for an initial diagnosis and then various healthcare professionals – such as an ear, nose and throat specialist or a neurologist – for more detailed evaluation.
This is a perfectly logical and acceptable way of seeking treatment but be aware that numerous medical appointments can prove both time-consuming and costly.
Physical therapy can offer understanding as to why vertigo has suddenly made itself known to you as well as positive results within only a handful of sessions, not to mention cheaper and quicker resolution of the problem. If you haven’t thought of physical therapy as a viable option for getting rid of vertigo, it is a strategy well worth considering.
Let’s take a more detailed look …
Physical Therapists Possess Expert Knowledge on Vertigo
For a more efficient vertigo diagnosis and treatment plan that is specifically tailored to your needs, not to mention lower costs to get this point, self-referral to a physical therapist is highly recommended. Chances are, your doctor would eventually refer you to a physical therapist but would take longer to get you there.
Not only does a physical therapist possess expert knowledge on vertigo and the ability to hone in on what exactly is causing you to have this problematic symptom, they also offer an array of drug-free treatments that can remove or significantly lessen the vertigo you’re experiencing. They can also teach you valuable techniques that would allow you to self-treat should vertigo ever make an unwelcome reappearance in your life.
Vertigo is most commonly associated with mechanical issues within the vestibular system. This is the apparatus of the inner ear that is responsible for maintaining balance. These include bony structures, the vestibule, the semi-circular canals and various membranous structures, all found deep within the ear.
Mechanical elements, such as these, are what physical therapists excel in testing and treating. You may find yourself surprised at how quickly and easily vertigo can be shown the door once you’ve paired up with a physical therapist.
Here are some of the main methods that a physical therapist may use to resolve your vertigo…
Knowledge is power. Often to tackle a problem successfully, it makes sense to first take the opportunity to understand it. This is a key principle that physical therapists are keenly aware of and so, to tackle your problems with vertigo, you will usually be asked some questions relating to what you’ve been experiencing.
You may also be asked to perform some physical assessments. Here, your physical therapist wishes to determine whether your vertigo stems from an underlying health issue that you may not be aware of and that may require intervention from your doctor or via a course of prescribed drugs. Additionally, these physical tests form part of a process known as vestibular evaluation.
Vestibular evaluation involves various functional tests to assess whether the components of your inner ear are working correctly or not. These could include the close observation and recording of your eye movement, and vision exercises, as well as tests relating to balance and listening.
Vestibular evaluation indicates to a physical therapist whether or not you are suited to mechanical-based treatment via physical therapy while also narrowing down whether you need alternative or additional assistance from a medical professional.
Vertigo: Forming a Treatment Plan
The overall goal of your physical therapist’s questions and the vestibular evaluation processes was to establish the precise cause of your vertigo. What has been uncovered now determines the strategy your physical therapist will take.
If your physical therapist has ruled out serious medical issues that would otherwise require the attention of a doctor, it is highly likely they will now try to establish whether a condition known as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is at play. BPPV is a case of incorrect signals going to the brain that relate to movement.
This is caused by calcium crystals detaching from the utricle within the inner ear and moving instead into the semi-circular canals, where they’re not supposed to be.
BPPV is the most common vestibular disorder and it is not known exactly why it happens. Various factors appear to increase BPPV risk including increased age, head trauma, migraines, reduced circulation, osteoporosis, diabetes and inner ear infections. However, despite the condition’s prevalence, it is easily remedied with some skilled input from a physical therapist.
Initially, you are likely be guided through the Epley maneuver. This involves a series of timed movements, which utilize gravity to move any displaced calcium crystals back to the utricle, normalizing fluid movement within the semi-circular canals and thus, relieving the symptom of vertigo. The Epley maneuver is safe and effective in up to 90% of people with BPPV, with results usually felt within only a session or two of physical therapy.
If BPPV has been ruled out, or the Epley maneuver does not relieve vertigo, your physical therapist will move onto other alternatives.
Vestibular Rehabilitation Training (VRT)
In certain scenarios, your physical therapist will choose to tackle vertigo using Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT), which has amassed impressive credentials for its capacity to knock vertigo out of the park.
VRT usually consists of a progressive series of exercises that can tackle dizziness, imbalance or visual issues. Essentially, VRT attempts to re-train your brain in-order to cope with the abnormal messages that are being received from the vestibular system.
This is where a physical therapist can tailor a VRT strategy that is very specific to you and the challenges you are facing. Through various techniques, your physical therapist can teach you how to rely on alternative and more reliable signals, which are being generated by other systems, such as your vision, hearing, joints, muscles and memory.
Commonly referred to as central compensation, the central goal of VRT is to enable you to return to the sports and activities you enjoyed prior to experiencing vertigo. Provided that the techniques are performed both regularly and consistently, there is great potential for relief from vertigo, perhaps resolving the issue completely.
Improving Your Overall Wellbeing
In addition to the above-mentioned techniques, a physical therapist will likely make some recommendations on what you can do to improve your overall strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health too. As well as helping you to counteract the negative effects of vertigo, a little work in this area can significantly improve your overall wellbeing.
Vertigo: It’s Time To Get Help!
Vertigo is a complex issue, with multiple causes that, in turn, determine how best to remedy this frustrating symptom. However, you can quickly negate vertigo’s complexity by teaming up with a physical therapist who possesses the understanding and expert knowledge you need.
A physical therapist has the capacity not only to assess and treat you within the clinic but also provide the guidance you need to continue to keep vertigo at bay.
Please don’t feel embarassed to reach out for help. This condition does not make you a freak of nature or anything like that. Vertigo is completely treatable, and we can help!