An End to Spinning: Physio Exercise to Treat Vertigo

Of the many debilitating conditions that people face daily, vertigo, or the spinning sickness, acutely and chronically affects people from all backgrounds with symptoms that adversely affect their daily activities and quality of life. Although not everyone will experience vertigo, many people age 50 and older experience it. It also commonly occurs as a secondary condition to one or more other life-changing illnesses.

Lifestyle changes and medicines can alleviate many associated symptoms, but sometimes the best solution is vertigo physiotherapy and rehabilitation with exercises. Read on to learn more…

What Is Spinning Sickness?

Vertigo describes the sensation of movement that patients experience. They might feel like the world has suddenly shifted into a spin around them. They can also feel like they’re spinning, even when sitting still or standing in place.

The dizziness aspect makes their brain or body uncertain about their physical position in relation to everything around them (i.e., spatial orientation). Their central nervous system and the sensory receptors and areas of the body connected to it stop communicating effectively, which leads to disharmony between the brain, eyes, vestibular system, joints, muscles and skin.

Beyond dizziness and associated light-headedness, vertigo symptoms typically include balance dysfunction, disorientation, eye-focusing difficulties, falling in one or more directions, ear ringing (i.e., tinnitus) or hearing loss. In some cases, a person can experience nausea or vomiting, and associated dehydration. If the underlying condition is life-threatening, they might also experience double vision, facial paralysis, slurred speech, swallowing difficulty, throat tightness or weakness in the arms and legs.

What Causes Vertigo?

Two main types of vertigo exist. Peripheral vertigo results from a defect or miscommunication associated with the inner ear or the eighth cranial nerve that leads from the inner ear to the brain stem. Central vertigo commonly occurs because of a problem with the cerebellum part of the brain or the brain stem.

Although vertigo often happens when a person moves their head or body rapidly in a specific direction, the movement or speed isn’t always the cause or underlying condition. For example, if a person merely breathes too fast or suffers a migraine, they can experience vertigo. The following list covers the most common causes:

– Traumatic brain injury

– Long bed rest or a bedbound scenario

– Ear, TMJ, neck, spine or skull-based surgery

– Fluid buildup or leakage, irritation or inflammation of the inner ear or inflammation of the vestibular nerve from infection, virus or other cause, as seen with Ménière’s Disease, Labyrinthitis, Perilymphatic Fistula and Vestibular Neuritis

– Any other conditions that negatively affect the inner ear, such as abnormal bone growth, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo and low blood pressure

– Medicines that damage the inner ear or cause vertigo as a side effect, such as antibiotics, anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatories, cardiovascular drugs, diuretics, pain relievers and salicylates

– Tumors and other lesions that compress the vestibular nerve, brain or brain stem, such as brain cancers, Multiple Sclerosis, Meningioma and Vestibular Schwannoma

– Poor circulation or compression of one or more blood vessels or non-vestibular nerves with or without seizures or strokes, such as heart disease, Raynaud’s Syndrome and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

– Weakness of the bones, joints or muscles or a non-vertigo mobility disorder that creates a high risk of tripping or falling

How Does Vertigo Physio and Rehab Treat Vertigo?

Vertigo physio helps a patient correct their spatial orientation and balance through various non-surgical physical adjustments, exercises, lifestyle changes and other techniques. In some cases, treatment only requires a few visits. In other cases, a patient might need weeks or lifetime care.

Physical therapists commonly advise patients to stop performing activities that can cause their symptoms to worsen during a high-symptom moment. For example, they usually recommend that a patient immediately turn down the lights and lie or sit down without continued movement or other activities that can exacerbate it, such as offline and online reading.

PTs frequently recommend or work with other specialized medical professionals to treat underlying conditions causing vertigo and improve other areas, such as cognition, diet, stress reduction and overall quality of life. They might also help the patient with assistive technologies that support balance and coordination. During physiotherapy and rehabilitation, a PT who has experience with vertigo might recommend one of the following treatment options:

Canalith Repositioning Maneuvers (CRM): Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo occurs when microscopic calcium carbonate crystals (i.e., otoconia or canalith particles) attached to sensory hair cells that assist with balance in one part of the inner ear break off, fall into other areas of the ear, and increase movement sensitivity. With CRM, a PT performs specialized head adjustments over one to two sessions to gently reposition the crystals into safe, painless positions.

Risks and Complications: The crystals can fall back into the wrong areas. Patients risk vertigo symptoms during treatment. There is also a risk of a back or neck injury.

– Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT): With VRT, a PT focuses on a patient-centered plan and a wide range of treatment options. While supervised by their PT, a patient repeatedly performs the same movements that cause their vertigo symptoms to help their brain learn how to adapt to incorrect balance and other signals. They learn physio exercises that teach their body to sense their surroundings and movements better (i.e., improved proprioception or kinesthesia). They also learn to use their other senses to a greater degree to compensate for continued problems.

Risks and Complications: A patient might experience an adverse change in hearing or inner ear pressure, fluid leaking from one or both ears, new or worsening tinnitus, or neck or head pain.

What Are the Benefits of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation?

Vertigo physio and rehab help patients better control their symptoms and reduce the risk of falls through improved coordination and physical strength. The ultimate goal is to help patients stabilize and once again perform various activities without suffering from vertigo or, at least, the worst symptoms. Patients who succeed with their vertigo treatments often experience greater independent mobility and feel more motivated, confident and positive when active on their own and around others. They enjoy a better quality of life.