Over 90 million people (42 percent of the American population) experience feelings of dizziness, vertigo, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this experience becomes a chronic condition. Dizziness is the number one reason that individuals over the age of seventy five visit doctors, and falls due to a loss of balance are the leading cause of serious injury and death in people over the age of sixty five.
Most (seventy five percent) of these cases are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders in the inner ear; examples of these conditions include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), Ménière’s disease, labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula 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 dizziness and vertigo occur in adults, but these conditions can affect kids 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. VRT exercises are prescribed individually for each patient’s specific symptoms and often involve the use of eye exercises, gait training and head movements designed to improve patients’ gaze and stability. The goals of VRT are to improve balance, minimize falls, decrease the subjective experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when moving or walking, improve coordination, and reduce the anxiety they often feel as a result of their condition.
For many people suffering from bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss and the conditions described above, VRT has often been shown to be effective in reducing their symptoms. 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 anxiety or depression, low blood pressure, reactions to medications, migraine headaches or transient ischemic attacks (TIA).
It is difficult to provide a general overview of the VRT exercises because they are individually tuned to and prescribed for each patient. 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. Consult a balance specialist if you have experienced dizziness or vertigo for long periods of time, and if an inner ear cause of the problem is indicated, ask for more information about Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy. You can also get more information from the pamphlets and training materials provided by the Vestibular Disorders Association.