Feelings of vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance are more prevalent than most people realize; 42% of the United States population (ninety million people) experience this at least once during their lifetime, and for many the condition becomes chronic. 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 1 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 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. Most of the cases of dizziness and vertigo 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). The Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy exercises are individually prescribed for each patient’s symptoms and complaints, but in general they consist of head movements, eye exercises and gait training designed to reduce symptoms and improve stability. VRT 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. 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), anxiety or depression, low blood pressure or reactions to medications, migraine headaches.
Because the specific exercises in a regimen of VRT 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 Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy 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.