by Julie Gazzoli, PT, Valley Medical Center Rehabilitation Services
Vertigo, or a feeling of spinning, floating or tilting causing imbalance, is often due to an inner ear or vestibular disturbance. Like your own personal gyroscope, the vestibular system relays information to your brain about your head position and movement. Your visual and sensory (touch) systems normally work together to help you maintain balance. When this information conflicts, the result may be dizziness or imbalance. An inner ear or vestibular dysfunction may cause a false sense of movement to be relayed to your brain, which can lead to a fall or cause you to avoid simple movements such as turning onto a particular side, looking up or bending over.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or BPPV is the most common vestibular disorder and is caused by calcium crystals from a fluid-filled cavity in the inner ear migrating unexpectedly to the semicircular canals of the inner ear. In addition to dizziness when you move, involuntary rapid eye movements often accompany the condition. Particle repositioning is the treatment of choice for this problem— physical therapists at Valley Medical Center are skilled at this treatment with a success rate as high as 70-90% with a single session.
Inflammation or infection of the vestibular nerve and surrounding tissues can also cause problems, including hearing loss. In the acute phase, dizziness and rapid eye movement is experienced even while the head is kept still and often get worse when looking in a particular direction (gaze-evoked). During this time, initial physical therapy focuses on helping patients move around safely as vestibular exercises are counter-productive early on. Typically, symptoms get better and go away in a few days to a month. If dizziness or imbalance continues to go on, physical therapy is highly recommended.
How to get help
An order from a physician or approved healthcare provider is needed for physical therapy vestibular rehabilitation. Valley Medical Center has both inpatient and outpatient physical therapists trained in vestibular rehabilitation. Please contact Rehabilitation Services at 425.690.3650 for more information and visit valleymed.org/rehab to learn more.