Physical Therapy Options for Vertigo

Ever experienced a sudden fit of dizziness for no apparent reason? You may be one of millions who suffer with vertigo.  Vertigo affects nearly 10% of the population and features dizzy spells that seem to come out of nowhere. For years doctors did not understand what was causing these bouts of dizziness, making it difficult to treat. Now that the cause of vertigo is known, physical therapy exercises designed to re-balance the inner ear is the best defense to stopping it.

What Causes Vertigo?

Vertigo is an inner ear problem that affects the vestibular system.  Since this system is responsible for helping you keep your balance, when disrupted dizziness occurs. 

Vertigo Physical Therapy Options Honolulu, HI

So what causes your world to suddenly begin spinning?  Scientists have discovered that the inner ear contains small amounts of calcium carbonate materials in certain areas.  When the head moves in a certain position, sometimes some of these tiny particles move from one area of the inner ear to another.  These crystals are often referred to as “ear rocks”. When they move out of place, they trigger incorrect sensory input that conflicts with what the eyes and spine sense. This conflict in spatial awareness is what triggers the spinning sensation: dizziness. Although vertigo usually only lasts a few seconds, if these crystals get stuck, the symptoms can become prolonged.

What Does Vertigo Feel Like?

Most people explain vertigo as a dizzy or spinning feeling. Here are some other symptoms that may occur:

  • a loss of balance
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache

Can Physical Therapy Help with vertigo?

There really is no other way to successfully treat vertigo other than through specialized movements of the head and neck.  Often considered the “magic wand” for treating vertigo, re-positioning maneuvers through physical therapy is the easiest and most efficient from of treatment to stop the symptoms of vertigo.

By re-positioning the head and neck using a series of specialized movements, a physical therapist can actually move the calcium crystals back to the part of the inner ear where they belong. Once this is done, symptoms disappear.

In most cases, this type of therapy can be completed in 15-20 minutes with about 80% of patients experiencing instant results.  For the 20% of people who don’t find instant relief, subsequent appointments can help dislodge other crystals, which will relieve their symptoms. Remember, the more crystals that have moved throughout the ear, the more help you will need to rebalance the inner ear and get those particles back where they belong.


What Exactly Does the Physical Therapist Do?

Treating vertigo with simple physical therapy head and neck exercises is quick, easy and painless.  Two of the most common maneuvers are called the Epley and Semont Maneuvers and have shown the most success in alleviating vertigo in patients suffering with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV); the loose crystal in the inner ear.


The Epley Method of Treatment

The Epley maneuver requires you to remain seated while the doctor performs specialized movements of your head in an effort to address your feelings of dizziness caused by loose crystals in your inner ear. This will help move the calcium particles back into their proper position within the ear canal.  You may feel some vertigo during the manipulation, but it will stop with a minute or so.


The Semont Treatment Method

Another common exercise your physical therapist may try involves using specialized movements while you are lying on a table.  These movements help the physical therapist address your symptoms of dizziness by re-positioning offset and out of place calcium crystals.


    Can I Practice These Exercises at Home?

    In some instances, your physical therapist will show you modified versions of these exercises that you can do at home if symptoms return.

    When Calcium Crystals Aren’t the Cause of Your Vertigo

    When calcium particles are not to blame for vertigo, the brain may need to learn how to compensate for certain movements. Adaptation and substitution exercises help to decrease the severity/frequency of symptoms to the point where they stop altogether. This is done by increasing the nervous systems control of the vestibular and or visual systems so that they become more efficient. This type of physical therapy treatment is usually ongoing for several weeks or months and requires a customized approach that addresses each patient’s specific problems.  

    Prime Physical Therapy has extensive experience in treating the symptoms of vertigo, not just from BPPV, but from other issues as well such as:

    • Neck Instability
    • Irritation or Damage to the Central Nervous System
    • Irritation or Damage to the Peripheral Nervous System

    Although BPPV is the most common cause of vertigo for our patients that suffer from dizzy spells, it is extremely important to accurately identify the underlying cause of your vertigo in order to implement the right treatment. Why is this important? Most vertigo and dizziness issues are readily aggravated and made worse by misdiagnoses of underlying causes and resulting improper treatment, so it's critical to get a proper diagnosis before applying any form of treatment for your vertigo.

    Vertigo was once a disorder that sufferers had to learn to deal with. This is no longer the case thanks to a variety of physical therapy exercise options. Today’s vertigo patient can experience prompt relief, leaving their symptoms behind.