by Sarah Thompson, DPT
When you think about physical therapy, thoughts of shoulders, knees, and exercise are likely to come to mind. Not very many people associate dizziness with the practice of physical therapy, but that is something that I am hoping to change.
Dizziness is one of the most common complaints reported to physicians. Perhaps you have heard of a more common form of dizziness, BPPV? Benign Paraoxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is a type of dizziness that most commonly occurs following trauma to the head (car accident, fall, etc). BPPV is thought to be caused by free- floating calcium carbonate crystals (otoconia) that have been jarred from the reservoirs within the inner ear (saccule and utricle) where they usually reside. Common signs and symptoms of BPPV include dizziness often brought on by change in position (such as rolling over in bed), nausea, vomiting, hearing loss, loss of balance, and/or recent trauma to the head (fall, car accident). Physical therapists with a background in vestibular rehabilitation are equipped with hands-on techniques to reposition the free-floating crystals back into their optimal alignment to minimize symptoms, and once symptoms have been managed, will design an exercise program based on each individual’s vestibular impairments.
There are 3 components to our balance systems: visual, vestibular, and somatosensory. What we see with our eyes makes up the visual component- how far away is an object? Is it moving? What we feel with our hands or our feet make up the somatosensory portion- is the ground I am standing on firm or soft? Uphill or downhill? Finally, and most importantly, is the vestibular system. Inside each of our ears are 3 canals, all positioned at different angles, that are filled with fluid. When we move our head, the resulting movement of fluid in the ears tells the brain how far, how fast and in what direction the head is moving.
As we age, our body naturally begins to break down, resulting in poorer vision, loss of hearing, loss of strength, and resultantly, poorer balance. That being said, balance is something that we must continuously work on, just as one works on strength, in order to maintain optimal function. Physical therapists are trained to recognize balance impairments and determine which of the 3 components of the balance system is or are affected. Vestibular rehabilitation challenges the impaired system (s) and is designed to result in habituation, or a decrease in symptoms following repeated stimulation.
If you, or anyone you know, suffer from dizziness or have questions about how it could be managed through physical therapy, please feel free to contact us at Rehab Plus Ahwatukee 480-485-5415.
Sarah Thompson, DPT is trained in Vestibular Rehabilitation and works out of our Rehab Plus Ahwatukee location. Have a question about Vestibular Therapy treatment? Email Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.