Is Your World Spinning? Dizziness and vertigo are common problems. In fact, the eighth most common problem seen by family doctors these days. Issues can be caused by injury or disease to the vestibular system. The vestibular system is the part of the inner ear and brain that controls balance and equilibrium. If damaged, inaccurate information is relayed to the brain and can cause dizziness, nausea, loss of balance, ringing in the ears or vertigo. What’s the difference between dizziness and vertigo you ask? Vertigo is often described as a spinning sensation, even when you are standing perfectly still. Most causes of vertigo involve the inner ear, but other conditions such as ear infections, migraines, tumors or a stroke may also produce these symptoms. It would be an emergent situation if vertigo were accompanied by double vision, difficulty speaking, an inability to walk, arm or leg weakness, or a change in alertness. More serious damage may be involved at the brain and spinal cord level. Dizziness is described as more of a lightheadedness sensation or feeling faint. Pale skin and nausea may be associated as well. In addition to inner ear issues, causes of this type of dizziness could be a drop in blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, abnormal heart rhythms, medications, and dehydration.
When damaged, the vestibular system may compensate and the brain may adapt to the inaccurate information it is receiving. Other times, the system needs to be re-trained. Physiotherapists with special training in Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy can successfully treat dizziness and vertigo caused by damage to the vestibular system. Research has shown that significant improvement or complete resolution of symptoms can be achieved within 6-8 weeks of rehabilitation. The physiotherapist may incorporate balance retraining exercises, specific vestibular exercises, special repositioning maneuver for vertigo caused by Benign Paroxiyminal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), and monitor the vestibular, balance and visual systems. In addition, your physiotherapist may prescribe exercises to improve your strength, flexibility and heart health with the goal of improving your overall health and well being.
Typically, physiotherapists work closely with physicians and other health care providers in this field, such as at the new clinic in Calgary at the South Health Campus - The Neurovestibular Program, or “The Dizzy Clinic”. This clinic has been open since January 2013 and is a neurovestibular rehabilitation program for patients with ailments of the inner ear that cause dizziness, nausea and balance problems. This program features the latest diagnostic and rehabilitative technology and includes specialized doctors, technicians and physiotherapists all under one roof.
All physiotherapists are trained to treat certain causes of dizziness. Upon examination it will be determined if your symptoms are coming from the inner ear, a musculoskeletal dysfunction (joint, muscle, ligament, nerve), the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or general deconditioning. Physical therapy treatment for dizziness can take many forms. Certain exercises may be prescribed that improve your balance, improve coordination, and help the brain “correct” differences in your inner ear. If more comprehensive vestibular rehabilitation is recommended, a referral can be sent to a specially trained physiotherapist or a physicians referral is required to access the neurovestibular rehabilitation program in Calgary.
Don’t leave these symptoms untreated! Many issues can be effectively treated with home exercises, balance retraining, and without medication. If more specialized therapy is required, we can point you in the right direction and get the help you need.