How to Treat Vertigo and Dizziness With Physiotherapy
Vertigo and dizziness are conditions that affect people of all ages. They often lead to decreased confidence and self-esteem as well as a fear of falls which can decrease independence.
Normal balance depends on the vestibular system as well as input from the eyes, muscles, and joints. The brain reflexively uses these inputs to keep you upright through a complex series of responses.
A failure in any of these systems can lead to dizziness and a loss of balance.
The Vestibular System
In order to better understand dizziness and vertigo, it’s important to understand the vestibular system.
We all have two peripheral vestibular systems on each side of the skull within the inner ear. They comprise three canals, the utricle, and the saccule.
The canals monitor turning movements of your head while the utricle and saccule monitor your head’s position and movements in space.
Each part contains liquid with the utricle and saccule also containing small crystals. When you move your head, the liquids and crystals move through the vestibular system against small nerve cells. This creates the sensation of movement.
If this nerve input is interrupted, limited, or even excessive, it can cause sensations of dizziness and vertigo.
What Causes Dizziness?
Dizziness can be caused by a number of issues including:
- Inner ear problems: Known as peripheral vestibular dysfunction, this can cause an overall feeling of unsteadiness, as if you are being pulled to the side or the room is spinning.
- Traumas: Injuries such as whiplash or concussion can cause instability in the neck that results in changes to the reflexes that coordinate head and eye movement.
- Low blood pressure: Circulatory issues can cause lightheadedness and the feeling of fainting if you stand up too fast.
- Nervous system problems: Multiple Sclerosis, strokes, and migraines can cause issues when processing inputs from the peripheral vestibular system and other systems that help you remain balanced.
In most cases, the exact cause of dizziness can be diagnosed, and determining the actual cause requires an assessment by a healthcare professional such as a physical therapist.
Are Vertigo and Dizziness the Same Thing?
These terms are often used interchangeably but vertigo is actually a subtype of dizziness that causes the sensation of movement when you are not moving.
Vertigo can be caused by issues in the peripheral vestibular system or the central vestibular system that is located in your brain and spinal cord.
The symptoms of vertigo are usually more severe than dizziness and may also cause nausea, sweating, and vomiting. It can also lead to staggering while walking, headaches, limited neck flexibility, and twitching eyes.
The symptoms that appear are as unique as the person who is experiencing them and depend on the cause of vertigo.
How Are Vertigo and Dizziness Treated?
Treatment also depends on the cause of your symptoms but there are treatments available to help with long-term symptoms.
For example, if your vertigo is caused by the presence of crystals in the canals of the vestibular system (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo), common treatment includes trying to reposition the crystals – known as the Epley maneuver.
If the above treatment is not effective, a series of exercises can be used to train the brain to be less responsive to the vestibular inputs that cause dizziness.
If the dizziness or vertigo is caused by trauma such as a motor vehicle accident, treatment will focus on healing the neck.
How Can Physiotherapy Help With Dizziness and Vertigo?
Studies have shown that vestibular physiotherapy can successfully treat people with dizziness and vertigo, especially if their symptoms are triggered or worsened by physical movement.
It can help improve function, increase balance, and reduce the risk of falls by implementing exercises that are customized to each patient’s specific and unique needs.
This can be done in a physiotherapy clinic or delivered as a home exercise program. Either method can result in significant changes in dizziness and balance measures.
Physiotherapists can design and teach these exercise programs. They can also perform the Epley maneuver to address Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV).
Physiotherapists with specific skills in vestibular rehabilitation can conduct an assessment of your dizziness and vertigo to establish your symptoms and determine a cause. If a cause cannot be determined, you will be referred to a medical specialist.
What is Vestibular Physiotherapy
When it comes to vestibular physiotherapy, there are four common exercises used:
- Eye-Head Coordination Exercises: These exercises help to improve focus and reduce the symptoms of dizziness.
- Balance and Gait Exercises: Balance and gait exercises challenge the vestibular balance system to strengthen which improves balance while walking.
- Habituation Exercises: Habituation exercises involve movements that gently stimulate the symptoms of dizziness and vertigo in order to desensitize the vestibular system to these movements.
As mentioned above, if you are suffering from BPPV, a physiotherapist can use the Epley maneuver to reposition the crystals in the vestibular system to address this condition.
How Long Does Vestibular Physiotherapy Take?
Each patient is different so the timeframe of vestibular physiotherapy can vary from person to person.
However, most individuals suffering from dizziness and vertigo benefit from performing vestibular exercises for 3-4 weeks. Within 4-6 weeks, many patients notice significant improvements in balance and reductions in dizziness.
Vestibular exercises are tailored to each individual and should be performed three times per day. While you are engaging in an exercise program designed by the physiotherapist, staying active will also help to reduce your symptoms.
Staying active can involve simple exercises such as walking or going to the gym. You can gauge your progress by paying attention to how long you feel dizzy following an activity.
The dizziness should settle within 30 minutes. If it takes longer than 30 minutes, the activity was likely too challenging and should be modified.
For the treatment of BPPV, it often only takes 1-3 treatments.
Are You Ready for a Personalized Treatment Program?
Our team of Edmonton Physiotherapists is dedicated to personalizing all of our treatment programs to address your unique health concerns and minimize your symptoms and discomfort.
If you have any questions about dizziness and vertigo give us a call at 1-844-256-7684 or book your appointment online!