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Dizziness & Vertigo

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Dizziness & Vertigo Explained

Dizziness is a common condition, especially among older people, but it can affect other ages as well. It increases the risk of falling and fear of falling, which then can result in more limitation of activity, the risk of injury, and increased healthcare costs.

Research shows that treatments such as “vestibular rehabilitation” and “balance retraining” are the most effective ways of treating dizziness related to inner ear problems (a very common cause of dizziness). Unfortunately, there are only about one in ten eligible patients referred for this treatment.

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Dr. Joe Goates, Kennewick Clinic Manager, shares his experience with dizziness, common forms and how he treats his patients.  Dr. Goates has an advanced certification in vestibular and balance disorders.

Can physical therapy help my dizziness?

Many people do not know that physical therapy can help treat dizziness. For several years now I have treated people with all kinds of dizziness and balance problems. Treating dizziness is a niche in physical therapy and not all therapists treat it. The most challenging thing about treating dizziness is correctly diagnosing the cause of the dizziness.

Dizziness comes in many forms and can come from many sources. Dizziness is what I call an “umbrella” term, which means that there are many forms of it and many ways to describe the sensation of dizziness.  One type of dizziness is vertigo. Vertigo refers to the sensation of spinning of the room or the person. The sensation may be moved horizontally, vertically, or a combination of directions.  Other types of dizziness may be described as light-headedness, feeling like you will fall, unsteadiness, fogginess in the head or feeling “out of it.”

Different types of dizziness originate from different sources. Dizziness may originate from the brain, the heart, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, response to medication, the neck, the vestibular system, which is the equilibrium system and others.  With so many systems being the possible cause of one’s dizziness, it is imperative to seek out a professional who can properly assess the cause of the symptoms. Proper diagnosis is the most important part of doing something about one’s symptoms because it will determine the best course of treatment to pursue.

Most common forms of Dizziness

The most common source of dizziness in adults over the age of 50 is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or BPPV. As the name states, this is vertigo or the sensation of spinning of the person or the room. In BPPV, vertigo comes on with a change in body position. Examples are rolling over in bed, getting into or out of bed, bending down to get something off the floor, or looking up. This type of vertigo usually only lasts a few seconds to a couple of minutes, however, when it first starts it can seem constant.

The cause of BPPV is due to debris in the circular canals of the vestibular system. “Ear crystals” as they are sometimes called, become loose and when they get into these circular canals, they float through the ear’s fluid with changes of head position relative to gravity.  Once the crystals settle to the bottom of the canal, whether you are lying or sitting, vertigo will pass. This type of vertigo is very easily treated by a skilled practitioner and 80% of cases will resolve within 2 treatment sessions.

Severe cases of vertigo, that last several days, with constant spinning the entire time are likely not BPPV but can be treated. Vertigo that lasts for days is often caused by an infection in the vestibular system, such as a virus that starts in the sinuses or middle ear and infects the inner ear, or vestibular system. When the vestibular system is infected it is referred to as either labyrinthitis or neuritis. When these structures become inflamed they can cause pain, but most commonly, severe vertigo is the main symptom. After a few days, your body’s immune system will fight off this infection and vertigo goes away. As a result of the infection, it leaves a “scar” behind on the equilibrium system, causing it to function more slowly than it should. The resulting symptoms are feelings of dizziness (not vertigo) when moving one’s head quickly, imbalance and often difficulty focusing the eyes. All of these symptoms can be treated with vestibular rehabilitation via specific exercises that strengthen the function of the vestibular system.

These are only two of the common forms of vertigo and dizziness, but because there are many other potential causes, it is extremely important to be evaluated by a knowledgeable practitioner who can properly diagnose and treat the problem.

Dizziness and vertigo can be miserable to deal with and can affect the quality of life significantly. If you, or someone you know, has any of the described symptoms, have them evaluated by a knowledgeable physical therapist as soon as possible in order to get on the road to recovery and a normal life again.

Fortunately, simple exercises can be very successful in improving many dizziness and vestibular symptoms. Exercises, such as turning your head right to left and back again or nodding your head up and down, led to reduced dizziness within a matter of weeks and the benefits lasted for at least a year.

After a thorough examination and consultation, one of our physical therapists can create an individualized treatment program to help you. Dizziness shouldn’t have to keep from enjoying simple daily activities and we look forward to working with you.

If you or someone you know has been suffering from persistent dizziness, call our 416-0444 for a free screening. In a few short minutes, we can tell you if physical therapy will be beneficial to you. It may very well be that in only a few short visits your dizziness will be gone and will be back to a normal life.