Ever get the feeling that you’re moving while standing still? Or get a little dizzy while just walking? It could be nothing more than an inner ear infection. However, especially in older people, this could be something more serious.
An estimated 90 million Americans experience dizziness at least once in their lifetime. Some patients develop permanent balance deficits which could make everyday activities seem less than routine.
For patients over 75 years of age, dizziness is the number one reason for visiting a physician, and dizziness is a significant risk factor for falls in elderly individuals. Falls have been estimated to be the leading cause of serious injury and death in persons older than 65 years.
Some estimates state that as many of half of all cases of dizziness are due to vestibular disorders. While some of these can get a little technical, the main causes are:
- Acoustic Neuroma – A serious but non-malignant tumor which forms on a nerve in the inner ear. This nerve helps transmit information regarding balance and sound to the brain.
- Age-Related Dizziness – Vestibular disorders are the most common cause of dizziness in older people.
- Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease – Sometimes our immune system can malfunction mistaking the body’s good cells for a virus. This is caused when the inner ear is attacked.
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) – That’s a mouthful! BPPV is a common vestibular disorder that causes vertigo due to debris that has collected in the inner ear. These debris crystals shift with head movement sending false signals to the brain.
- Concussion – Any kind of trauma to the brain can cause vestibular abnormalities.
Getting dizzy from reading this yet?
People with these issues tend to purposefully stay away from physical activities in order to avoid or lessen the symptoms. This behavior might help but will create other issues such as decreased muscle strength, decreased flexibility, increased joint stiffness and reduced stamina. So avoidance of the issue is definitely not the right course of action!
While there are many other causes, the good news is that once identified, a physical therapist can show you exercises which will help the body adapt and relieve most of the symptoms. This is called, appropriately, vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT).
The goals of VRT are to get you back to a normal lifestyle by doing the following:
- Improve your balance
- Minimize falling or feeling like you are going to fall
- Decrease any sensation of dizziness
- Create more stability while walking, jogging and other locomotion exercises
- Improve muscular coordination
- Decrease anxiety caused by disorientation
VRT is a form of physical therapy that uses specialized exercises that result in gaze and gait stabilization. Most VRT exercises involve head movement, and head movements are essential in stimulating and retraining the vestibular system.
These will help alleviate the problems caused by the disorder. The exercises are designed to reduce dizziness and hopefully prevent falls. Unfortunately, VRT is not a cure but it’s a way to help your body compensate by treating the symptoms.
Your physical therapist will design a regimen based on your personal symptoms. Some of these exercises could include:
- Various eye-only movements
- Turning the head from side-to-side or forward and back
- Shoulder shrugs and circles
- Alternating standing and sitting motions
- Step walking and bending
Vestibular rehabilitation therapy has been highly effective for most adults with disorders of the vestibular or central balance system. In a number of studies, customized VRT programs were significantly more effective than generic exercises in resolving symptoms.
As with other issues, the sooner it’s identified the less chance of the symptoms getting more serious. If you’re experiencing anything similar to what was discussed in this article, don’t wait. Call us today, and let’s work together to make you feel like yourself again!