Is Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy a Viable Treatment Option for Dizziness or Vertigo?

Over 90 million people (fourty two percent of the American population) experience feelings of vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this encounter becomes a long-term condition. In the elderly, dizziness is the most common reason that people over seventy five visit a doctor, and for people over 65, falls resulting from a loss of balance are the number 1 cause of serious injury and death.

Approximately three-fourths of these cases of dizziness and loss of balance are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders that affect the inner and middle ear, such as vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma, labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula, Ménière’s disease and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). These disorders cause abnormalities in the delicate areas of the inner ear that disrupt our ability to maintain and control our sense of balance. Although most cases of chronic dizziness and vertigo occur in adults, the condition can affect kids suffering from it even more, because they are so active that a lack of balance can prevent them from engaging in sports or other activities.

There are drug and surgical treatments for these conditions, but one of the alternative therapies is called Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT), a form of physical therapy that uses specialized sets of movements to stimulate and retrain the vestibular system. VRT exercises are prescribed individually for each patient’s specific symptoms and often involve the use of head movements, gait training and eye exercises designed to improve patients’ gaze and stability. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy cites its goals as seeking to improve balance, decrease the experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when moving or walking, improve coordination, minimize falls, and reduce anxiety.

Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms for many people suffering from the conditions mentioned above, and for those with other forms of bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss. The effectiveness of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy in patients suffering from these conditions who did not respond to earlier treatment methodologies has been proven in several clinical trials. It is not as likely to be beneficial if a patient’s symptoms are the result of low blood pressure, transient ischemic attacks (TIA), reactions to medications, migraine headaches or anxiety or depression.

It is difficult to provide a general overview of the VRT exercises because they are individually tuned to and prescribed for each patient. But are all taught by trained VRT therapists, and often involve movements of the head, eyes, and body that enable your brain and body to retrain themselves and regain control over their equilibrium and balance, compensating more effectively for the incorrect information sent to them from their inner ear. If you have experienced long-term symptoms of dizziness or vertigo, consult a balance specialist and ask for more information. You can also get more information from the pamphlets and training materials provided by the Vestibular Disorders Association.