Vestibular system dysfunction is when there is miscommunication between your sensory system that tells your brain where your body is in space and how it is moving and how your brain processes that information. When miscommunication takes place, your body deals with it by being dizzy, or foggy, or by losing balance, or by your eyes not being able to focus. Causes of vestibular system dysfunction can include concussion, viruses, BPPV, migraine, or Meniere’s disease, plus a variety of other causes. The longer the symptoms continue, the harder it can be to recover from the dysfunction. Frequently patients have difficulty in obtaining a timely medical work-up and diagnosis. Referrals to specialists such as ENTs or neurologists can take months, by which time the vestibular dysfunction has become more entrenched. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy can jump start the recovery process. VRT works with the brain’s neuroplasticity to teach it adaptation, habituation, and/or full recovery.
Poor balance and falls are not an inevitable part of getting older. People can maintain good balance into their senior years. And people who have poor balance can improve no matter their age. Having good balance depends on three important systems communicating well with each other.
The sensory system tells our brain where our body is in space and how fast it is moving. Are we leaning forward? Are we reaching up? Can we see where we are going? Did the sidewalk catch our toe?
The brain then has to interpret what the sensory system is telling it as to whether our body is in danger of falling. If so, then the brain will command our muscles to do something.
The muscles and skeletal system need to be strong enough to bring our body back to a safe position.
Sometimes it is obvious by the diagnosis what part of the balance system is the weak part. Certain injuries affect the muscles and skeletal system, such as degenerative joint disease. Certain diseases affect the sensory system such as inner ear problems or peripheral neuropathies. Other diseases affect the brain’s ability to interpret and react to input such as Parkinson’s disease, strokes, and multiple sclerosis.
Specialized physical therapists can assess where the problem is and design a treatment plan to strengthen the weak parts of the balance system or to teach compensatory techniques to work around the weak parts.
Over the age of 65, the problem of dizziness becomes one of the most common reasons for doctors’ office visits. Some describe dizziness as a spinning sensation or vertigo; others describe dizziness as a general feeling of unsteadiness or lightheadedness.
Dizziness can result in difficulty walking, nausea, anxiety, feelings of being tired, decreased concentration, and even depression. Above all, it can increase the risk for falls, which is a serious health concern among older adults.
Why see a physical therapist for dizziness?
If you are dizzy or off balance, you may have an inner ear, or vestibular problem. Many people with inner ear damage may stop exercising or moving their head. Vestibular physical therapists are specially trained to treat the dizziness and balance problems that you may have.
Physical therapists can teach you strategies to help you gradually recover. If specific activities or chores around the house cause you to feel off balance, you will learn how to do them safely. The exercises that the physical therapist will do with you and will assign for you to do at home on your own, will decrease your dizziness.
If you are interested in learning more, Claire is available for a free 15-minute telephone consultation to discuss details of her program. During this consultation, she can give you an overview of insurance coverage or private pay options.