The vestibular system – it’s something most people have never heard of, we all rely on it heavily, and about a third of us will have problems with it at some point.
This system consists of the organ in the inner ear which detects head position and movement, as well as the parts of the brain that process that information.
Our ability to perceive head movement, stay upright, and see clearly when in motion is all thanks to the vestibular system, so you can imagine the trouble caused when it’s not working properly!
Your best bet for treating issues with the vestibular system is Vestibular Rehabilitation. This therapy is a research-based approach where individualized techniques are used to help the brain compensate for problems in the vestibular system.
This treatment also uses maneuvers that are done to correct mechanical dysfunctions in the vestibular part of the inner ear.
Vestibular rehab requires post-grad training, and is mainly performed by physiotherapists, however occupational therapists or audiologists can provide it as well.
Vestibular problems can take many forms
Vestibular disorders can come from pathologies in any area of the complex vestibular system.
Disorders can arise “out of the blue” or stem from factors such as trauma (car accidents, falls, etc), inner ear infections, aging, medications, tumors or other brain-related issues, or as symptoms of other diseases/conditions.
Symptoms can include dizziness, vertigo, unsteadiness or falls, blurry vision while moving, motion sensitivity, and nausea or vomiting.
It can also create other complications, like poor concentration, decreased activity, movement restriction, reclusiveness, anxiety, and depression.
What to expect during vestibular rehabilitation
A proper vestibular rehabilitation assessment is lengthy, but it’s thorough. You can expect:
– Discussion about the history and nature of your symptoms
– Screening for more serious causes of dizziness or unsteadiness
– Evaluation of eye movements assisted by infrared video-analysis
– Testing for sensitivity to motion or position change
– Evaluation of stationary and moving balance
– Testing other areas that could be contributing, like neck problems or blood-pressure
Following the assessment, a wide variety of treatment options are available. These can include eye exercises, training to reduce sensitivity, balance challenges, and strategies for dealing with cognitive and psychological impacts.
In cases of Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV – the most common cause of vertigo), canalith repositioning maneuvers can be used. The results are often dramatic.
The balance retraining done as part of vestibular rehab is also effective for clients who don’t necessarily have a vestibular problem, but have orthopaedic, sensory, or other brain-related disorders affecting their equilibrium.
Why is vestibular rehabilitation still so unknown?
For those who head to their Doctor with dizziness and balance issues, it can be challenging to get to the root cause. Many Doctors take a “wait and see” approach or say there isn’t anything to be done.
Those with specialized training in vestibular rehabilitation know that there’s more to it.
It may seem reasonable to simply avoid the things that trigger dizziness, but this can slow down recovery.
With plenty of research, clinical practice guidelines, and position statements from specialists, it’s clear that Vestibular Rehabilitation is a valid and beneficial treatment, but many aren’t being informed of it.
Now that you know what the vestibular system is, you can appreciate it more and be aware of when issues start to present themselves. Vestibular rehabilitation should be your go-to solution if you start to experience the symptoms described here.
This blog originally appeared on Lifemark.ca and was written by Sheelah Woodhouse, PT, BScPT, Vestibular Physiotherapist