What is Vertigo? Can Physical Therapy Help?

Vertigo - final

What is Vertigo? Vertigo is a condition that we see regularly in our clinic, but it is a problem that many patients have difficulty understanding. The term “vertigo” refers to feeling “off balanced” and “dizzy”, and often includes a sensation of you spinning or the room spinning around you. There are multiple causes of vertigo including Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Meniere’s disease, or infections of the inner ear such as vestibular neuritis. The type of vertigo that we typically treat in physical therapy is BPPV. With this condition we expect to see the patient experience dizziness and spinning sensations with position changes such as rolling over in bed, bending over, or turning their head a certain direction. Typically, this spinning sensation will last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple minutes and then will subside. It is not uncommon for people to experience nausea, ringing in the ears, or double vision along with the dizziness and spinning sensations.

Why does this occur? This is where things tend to get confusing for patients. There is not always an obvious identifiable cause for BPPV. We all have calcium “crystals” called otoliths in our ears. These crystals reside in the inner ear and are integral components to our vestibular system. They float in fluid and touch tiny hair follicles to signal the brain when our body is horizontally or vertically accelerating. Vertigo occurs when one of these crystals travels into a canal that it is not supposed to be in. The crystal moves within the canal when changing positions, causing dizziness and spinning sensations until the body’s movement stops. Once you have reached a new body position, the crystal settles into a new spot in the canal and symptoms resolve until you change your body position again, causing the crystal to move within the canal again and symptoms to return. This makes performing daily activities very difficult and can become disabling.

Can physical therapy help? This is when coming to a physical therapist can be life changing! Through a series of tests including quick positional changes such as lying down/turning head/rolling over, your physical therapist can identify which of the canals (there are 3 in each ear) contains an unwanted crystal and can do a series of position changes to move the crystal out of the canal and back to where it should reside in the inner ear. We are typically able to help patients who have true positional vertigo within 5 treatment sessions, but often have success with as few as 2-3 visits.  Many patients make trips to the ER for their dizziness or wait to get an appointment with their doctor’s office, just to be eventually referred to physical therapy for vertigo treatments.  At Foundation Therapy Specialists, we understand that living with extreme vertigo symptoms can be debilitating, so we get patients in for an evaluation as soon as possible to help them feel better quickly.

Direct access is critical for patients suffering from vertigo and allows them to seek evaluation and treatment for up to 30 days from a licensed physical therapist without a referral from a physician. This allows patients to get treated faster so they can return to their prior level of functioning as quickly as possible.

Please contact Foundation Therapy Specialists directly at 918-766-0391 if you think you would benefit from a vertigo evaluation.

About Elder Care

Elder Care’s mission is to ensure that mature adults live happy, healthy, independent lives. We are a non-profit organization designed to be the central coordinator of services for mature adults and their families. We take pride in being a professional resource for aging services in Washington, Nowata, and Osage counties.

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Angie Thompson
Elder Care Development Director