Over ninety million people (42 percent of the United State population) experience feelings of dizziness, vertigo, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this encounter becomes a chronic 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 death and serious injury.

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 benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), Ménière’s disease, labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula and vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma. All of these conditions affect the inner ear and the delicate system that handles our sense of balance and enables us to maintain control over it. Most of the cases of vertigo and dizziness occur in adults, but these conditions can affect children as well, with even greater impact because they are often involved with athletics or playground activities in which a sense of balance is key.

These conditions can be treated with surgery and drugs, but there is another treatment methodology that uses physical therapy to stimulate and retrain the vestibular system and provide relief – Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT). The VRT exercises are individually prescribed for each patient’s symptoms and complaints, but in general they consist of eye exercises, head movements and gait training designed to reduce symptoms and improve stability. The goals of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy are to improve balance, minimize falls, decrease the subjective experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when walking or moving, improve coordination, and reduce the anxiety they often feel as a result of their condition.

For many people suffering from bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss and the conditions described above, VRT has often been shown to be effective in reducing their symptoms. The effectiveness of VRT in patients suffering from these conditions who did not respond to earlier treatment methodologies has been proven in several clinical trials. On the other hand, VRT is not as likely to be beneficial if the underlying cause of dizziness or vertigo is due to reactions to medications, migraine headaches, anxiety or depression, low blood pressure or transient ischemic attacks (TIA).

Because the specific exercises in a regimen of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy vary according to the patient’s symptoms and conditions, it is not easy to give an overview of them. But most of the exercises involve therapist-led movements of the head and body to help your brain and body retrain themselves to compensate for the erroneous information they are receiving from their inner ear, and thus regain control over their balance and equilibrium. Consult a balance specialist if you have experienced dizziness or vertigo for long periods of time, and if an inner ear cause of the problem is indicated, ask for more information about VRT. You can also get more information from the pamphlets and training materials provided by the Vestibular Disorders Association.

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