Over 90 million people (fourty two percent of the American population) experience feelings of vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this encounter becomes a chronic condition. In the elderly, dizziness is the most common reason that people over seventy five visit a doctor, and for people over 65, falls resulting from a loss of balance are the number 1 cause of death and serious injury.
Most (75 percent) of these cases are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders in the inner ear; examples of these conditions include Ménière’s disease, labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma. These disorders cause abnormalities in the delicate areas of the inner ear that disrupt our ability to maintain and control our sense of balance. Although most cases of chronic vertigo and dizziness occur in adults, the condition can affect children suffering from it even more, because they are so active that a lack of balance can prevent them from engaging in sports or other activities.
There are surgical and drug treatments for these conditions, but 1 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 head movements, gait training and eye exercises 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 walking or moving, improve coordination, and reduce the anxiety they often feel as a result of their condition.
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. The effectiveness of VRT in patients suffering from these conditions who did not respond to earlier treatment methodologies has been proven in several clinical trials. It is not as likely to be beneficial if a patient’s symptoms are the result of transient ischemic attacks (TIA), reactions to medications, migraine headaches, low blood pressure or anxiety or depression.
It is difficult to provide a general overview of the VRT exercises because they are individually tuned to and prescribed for each patient. But most of the exercises involve therapist-led movements of the head and body to help your brain and body retrain themselves to compensate for the erroneous information they are receiving from their inner ear, and thus regain control over their balance and equilibrium. If you have experienced long-term symptoms of vertigo or dizziness, consult a balance specialist and ask for more information. You can also get more information from the pamphlets and training materials provided by the Vestibular Disorders Association.