While vertigo and dizziness may not seem like issues that could be helped by physiotherapy, evidence has shown that a specialised exercise programme can help people suffering from frequent spells. This is known as Vestibular Rehabilitation.

What is Vestibular Rehabilitation?

Vestibular rehabilitation therapy is an exercise based program used to treat the symptoms of dizziness, vertigo and unsteadiness resulting from inner ear conditions such as:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
  • Vestibular neuronitis or labyrinthitis
  • Post acoustic neuroma removal
  • Vestibular migraine

If your symptoms are provoked or aggravated by movement or positional changes, or you have problems with balance or unsteadiness while walking, your physiotherapist can perform an assessment and come up with a treatment plan specific to your needs.

Balance and the Vestibular System explained

Good balance is essential for daily life, from getting out of bed to crossing the road. A healthy balance system uses information from the brain, inner ears, eyes, and joints, and enables people to see clearly when moving their head.

The brain controls balance using feedback received from the inner ear, eyes and sensors in the joints, muscles and tendons that sense position or movement. Conditions affecting one or more parts of this balance control system can cause a balance disorder which then can lead to dizziness.

Dizziness can cause symptoms such as vertigo (spinning sensation), nausea, vision problems, fatigue, tinnitus (ringing or other noise in the ears), falls and hearing loss.

The vestibular system is a sensory system that is responsible for providing our brain with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation. It is also involved with motor functions that allow us to keep our balance, stabilize our head and body during movement, and maintain posture. If our vestibular system is not working properly it can affect our balance and cause dizziness.

Patients should check with your doctor before coming to physiotherapy for the treatment of dizziness. The doctor can help to rule out other potential causes of dizziness such as high blood pressure amongst other things.

How can vestibular rehabilitation help?

Vestibular rehabilitation can:

  • Improve symptoms of dizziness and unsteadiness
  • Improve balance and enabling patients to walk more steadily
  • Reduce the risk of falls
  • Help you get back to activities you were doing before
  • Improve your confidence

How can I exercise if I am dizzy all the time?

The exercises prescribed by the physiotherapist will be specific to your needs. Sometimes the exercises will be performed in different positions such as lying, sitting or standing; depending on what is best for you. The most common types of exercises that are included in a vestibular rehabilitation programme are:

  • Habituation exercises- getting used to particular positions/ movements
  • Gaze stability exercises- practice moving your head while keeping your eyes focused on a specific point
  • Balance and gait training- training static and dynamic balance most appropriate to your daily life
  • Fitness training
  • Shoulder/ cervical exercises

Don’t let frequent spells affect your quality of life. Physiotherapy can help in returning to everyday activities like maintaining balance in the shower, walking, sport, or housework. It can also help to reduce fatigue and increase independence.

This post has been written by Physiotherapist Breifne McKeever B.Sc (Hons)

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