Vertigo: A cure for a Common Condition through Physical Therapy Treatment

“You have rocks in your ears!” may sound more like a playground insult than what you might hear from your medical provider. However, this may be the case if you’re experiencing symptoms associated with the condition called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). BPPV is a disorder of the inner ear in what’s known as the vestibular system.

The vestibular system helps maintain balance and equilibrium by sending signals about your head position and movement in the environment. BPPV causes short periods of a spinning sensation with changing head positions. Symptoms may occur when lying down, turning over in bed, or looking up into a cupboard. The spinning sensation, called “vertigo”, usually lasts a few seconds up to a minute. You may also feel lightheaded, nauseous, off balance, and have increased risk for falling. BPPV occurs when “ear rocks”, known as otoconia, move from one part of the inner ear to another where they don’t belong, and you experience vertigo. Between vertigo spells, some people feel symptom-free while others feel a mild sense of imbalance or disequilibrium. The cause of BPPV is frequently unknown but it may occur after a concussion, accident, or fall.

People are often surprised that a referral to a physical therapist (PT) is recommended for treatment of BPPV. Treatment involves the use of specialized testing to identify what ear and which of the three canals in the ear are affected by the “loose rocks”. The PT watches for certain abnormal eye movements that occur with BPPV to aid in diagnosis. The most effective and accurate diagnosis and treatment involves use of special infrared camera goggles that monitor the abnormal eye movements. The PT can use information from the eye movements to perform specific head and body maneuvers to move the “ear rocks” back where they are supposed to be. BPPV is nearly 90 percent treatable, usually in just a few visits or less. Treatment may also involve exercises to restore reflexive and balance functions impaired by BPPV.

BPPV is the most common disorder of the vestibular system, but there are other conditions that may contribute to dizziness and imbalance. A physical therapist specializing in vestibular rehabilitation and treatment of BPPV has received additional training to assess and treat these conditions or make appropriate referrals to other providers.

Tracie Schroeder, DPT at OrthoRehab’s Specialty and Aquatic Physical Therapy Office in Kalispell specializes in vestibular rehabilitation and balance disorders. She has infrared camera testing equipment to help her patients with accurate diagnosis and treatment. She has completed the American Physical Therapy Association’s Clinical Competency in Vestibular Rehabilitation and has practiced in Kalispell for over 10 years. She can be reached at 406-260-4081.

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