It can come on fast and hit you hard. All of a sudden you feel like you’re spinning or that the room around you is spinning.
This onslaught of dizziness can also bring with it nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness and a loss of balance. These symptoms are disconcerting to say the least, but they aren’t as mysterious as they seem.
Brought on as a result of inner ear problems, vertigo is a common cause of sudden dizziness. It is among the most common vestibular disorders, which are ailments related to parts of the inner ear and brain that involve balance and eye movements.
You might be surprised to know that the cure for vertigo isn’t typically medicine or surgery. It’s mechanical – meaning a series of tactical head maneuvers may be enough to do the trick.
And perhaps even more unexpectedly, a doctor isn’t the only medical practitioner who can offer relief. A physical therapist can help, too.
There are two types of vestibular rehabilitation; one is aimed at fixing the sudden wave of violent symptoms associated with vertigo, while the second offers supportive care to help alleviate lingering feelings of lightheadedness or loss of balance.
Assessment and treatment target the primary culprit of vertigo – dislodged calcium carbonate crystals that have migrated from an area of the inner ear that assists with balance. When the crystals get into the ear canals, they interfere with the normal fluid movement used to sense head motion, creating intense sensations of dizziness.
A physical therapist will evaluate a potential vertigo patient through coordinated eye and head movements to assess the vestibular system. Balance tests will determine whether the issue is purely vestibular or if there could be other physiological factors causing a patient to be unsteady on his or her feet.
One tell-tale sign that patients are suffering from vertigo is that symptoms flare up when they turn their head while lying in bed. Depending on which direction creates a spinning sensation (right or left), a physical therapist can identify which ear is involved. And then treatment can begin.
Easing The Spin
Once a diagnosis of Vertigo is confirmed, treatment can be performed on the spot. A series of head movements performed while a patient is lying on a treatment table will help reposition the crystals out of the ear canals. That can resolve the worst of the symptoms instantaneously.
But another evaluation a week or so later will reveal whether there are any long-term effects. While acute symptoms can be resolved quickly, other symptoms could remain depending on how long a patient was suffering from vertigo prior to receiving treatment. Patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, are more prone to lingering effects of vertigo, which could manifest as reduced ear function and an altered gait to compensate for continued feelings of dizziness.
A targeted program of physical therapy can tackle ongoing impacts of vertigo through coordinated eye and head movements and exercises aimed at retraining the body’s balance mechanisms. Additional treatments focusing on balance, gait and posture can help correct any movement issues linked to persistent sensations of spinning.
And while symptoms of vertigo can resolve themselves over time, the question you have to ask yourself is how long do you want to suffer in the meantime? A quicker, more effective solution is out there. All you have to do is reach out for help.
We have four Physical Therapy Clinics that offer Vestibular Treatment:
Fegan Hewitt, PT, DPT is the Clinical Director of the Laburnum Clinic in Richmond, Virginia. Fegan is a Direct Access Certified Physical Therapist and is available to see patients without a referral.