At some point in life, most people will experience dizziness. There are many causes for dizziness but it’s often due to a problem with the vestibular system, located in the inner ear.
Dizziness can be treated without medication or surgery.
Here are the five main distinctions of inner ear-related dizziness:
- Vertigo is a sensation of spinning or turning. The most common vertigo is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo where tiny calcium crystals in the inner ear move around causing the sensation of vertigo.
- Lightheadedness or wooziness is feeling faint, such as what might happen when you stand up quickly. It can often result from an inner ear disorder in a gravity sensor called the otolith organ or be associated with your blood pressure.
- Motion sickness is a form of dizziness that makes you feel nauseous. It can occur from any kind of movement such as on a boat or sitting in the back seat of a car. It can also result from a concussion or ear infection.
- Disequilibrium is an unsteady feeling when standing or walking. It’s like getting off a ride at Disney Land and being unable to walk straight. People using canes and walkers often have this form of imbalance.
- Behavioral dizziness results from feeling anxious or panicked about being dizzy. It’s a psychological reaction to an existing issue that causes dizziness symptoms to get worse. This, too, can be treated with physical therapy.
While medications are often prescribed for dizziness, it is possible to reduce or eliminate it through physical therapy. For example, balance and vestibular physical therapy helps you recover the weakened vestibular system and use your other senses such as vision and touch to compensate for the loss of balance. In simple terms, the brain recalibrates and reeducates itself. The balance system is similar to muscles–you can lose it if you don’t use it. Training the balance system takes time, patience and practice. The first few weeks are always challenging but within a month, most patients feel better and experience dramatic improvement. The number of sessions needed varies by person and disorder severity but most people see significant improvement in less than two months.
Depending on the cause, physical therapy approaches to dizziness include:
- Balance Retraining: For patients whose dizziness is due to disequilibrium, practical solutions to common problems are offered. For example, how to negotiate walking on uneven surfaces such as thick carpet or lawns. Movement coordination and improve participation in everyday activities are high priorities.
- Repositioning/Canalith Maneuvers: This therapy is specifically for patients with Benign Paroxysmal Positioning Vertigo. Using special hands-on techniques, a physical therapist moves the patient’s head and neck to reposition the calcium crystal debris floating in the inner ear to reduce/eliminate the vertigo.
- Strengthening/Endurance Therapy: Patients with disequilibrium or chronic dizziness are often weak and frail from the disorder. Traditional physical therapy using progressive resistant exercise and endurance exercises help patients reduce fall risk and improve overall health and wellness.
- Self-directed Home Programs: Following a one-hour training session, the patient is provided with a set of at-home exercises. Performed for a few minutes several times a day, most patients report relief within just a few months.
While an inner ear dysfunction is the most common cause of dizziness, it can also result from medications, circulatory and neurological conditions. The first step in treating your dizziness is discovering the root cause. Physical therapists are specially trained and certified in assessing and treating your dizziness disorder.
You don’t need to live with dizziness. With physical therapy, you can right your world again and return to doing the activities you love!