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vertigo ... stopping the spin

You may have heard the term vertigo, or have heard of a friend experiencing vertigo. Well, what exactly is vertigo? An often underutilized and underrepresented specialty in physical therapy, vertigo is the sensation of the world spinning around you when you are not moving. There is a balance organ in your inner ear, which we call the vestibular system. The vestibular system acts as a human gyroscope, keeping us oriented where we are relative to space. It also helps to gauge how fast and how far we move our heads. When something happens to the inner ear, this is when you feel a sensation of vertigo.


What are common Causes?

There are many ways the vestibular system can be affected. The most common reasons include:

  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo: Crystals in the inner ear dislodge, causing a false sense of movement

  • Vestibular Neuritis: The nerve innervating the inner ear doesn’t function correctly causing sensations of vertigo


Other reasons the inner ear can be affected:

  • Meniere’s Disease

  • Migraines, traumatic or chronic

  • Certain medications

  • Peripheral Arterial Disease and diabetes

  • Side effect of chemotherapy


How do I know if I have vertigo?

People with an inner ear dysfunction will typically experience dizziness with these types of activities:

  • Getting in/out of bed and rolling over in bed

  • Turning your head quickly to look at something

  • Blurred vision with head movement

  • Driving

  • Experiencing dizziness in environments with a lot of background stimulation (such as the grocery store)

  • Difficulty reading


What Can Physical Therapy Do for me?

It's important to visit with a physical therapist versed specifically in vestibular therapy. In my practice, I use a series of tests that help define the underlying issue(s) causing dizziness. This helps guide the appropriate treatment and exercises to alleviate both the primary and secondary symptoms of the vertigo. Every patient is unique, but treatment could include maneuvering dislodged crystals into correct alignment within the inner ear, retraining the brain to override those dizzy feelings due to the ear not functioning appropriately, improving ocular motor skills, as well as balance and gait.

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