aging gracefully, Blog

Vertigo – What I Learned in Physical Therapy

Image by Felix Hu from Pixabay

I am approaching the end of my time in physical therapy. I pushed my doctor for a referral after fighting vertigo for three years. I have been through steroids, antihistamines, Dramamine and home baked exercises none of which worked for me for very long.

My diagnosis is BPPV, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, caused by a calcified otolith (often referred to as crystals) loose in the inner ear. After diagnosis by the therapist, the Epley maneuver is performed (which requires about ten minutes) and may be repeated up to three times.

This maneuver can trigger vertigo, which makes it feel like the entire room is spinning at a very fast speed. Some people may experience extreme nausea and may actually throw up. I liken it to being caught on an out-of-control tilt-a-whirl that does not stop.

Untreated, vertigo may recur over and over again, brought on by certain movements of the head. Treated, the symptoms disappear although they can recur in 30% of patients.

My symptoms disappeared after the second treatment, thankfully. I know it is possible they can come back, but at least I know now there is a way to treat it.

What happens after suffering with something like this is that it changes our physiological responses. For me, I slept in only one position which caused damage to my neck and shoulder. Our brain cautions us about past experiences that brought on vertigo and our body in turn, alters it normal response. As a result, there is much retraining that must take place.

Retraining consists of increasing muscle strength, improving posture, stretches, coordinated head and eye movements, and balance exercises. As a result of this retraining, my neck pain is almost gone, my shoulder pain is almost completely gone, my range of motion in my neck and shoulder has improved and my balance is getting better. I was shocked when I was asked to put my feet together, raise one knee, cross my arms across my chest and then close my eyes. As soon as I closed my eyes I could not stand. Without my other senses, my balance could not be maintained. I am doing this exercise every day (always in a corner so I can ‘catch’ myself if necessary) and often standing on a surface like a pillow which challenges our balance even more. I am improving every day. My therapist has even recommended I brush my teeth standing on one foot only.

As we grow older, we stop challenging our bodies in ways we do not even realize. We stop riding amusement park rides, no more summersaults, and no more cartwheels. In our society we don’t even walk much anymore (walking is very good for the vestibular  system).

If you suffer with vertigo or dizziness of any kind, I highly recommend seeing a physical therapist. They can determine the cause of your condition and if it is BPPV, there is an easy and effective treatment to resolve it.

Of course, I wish it could not happen again, but if it does, I know I can get treatment and get back to the business of living normally. Treat your body well. It is the only one you have.