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.


28 thoughts on “Vertigo – What I Learned in Physical Therapy”

  1. I still get it occasionally. Lying flat on my back, bending forward when kneeling, or when on a ladder, looking up. I have stopped going up ladders, lying on my back in bed or in the bath, and avoid bending forward for too long too. But I do a lot of walking with Ollie, at least 30 miles a week, and that doesn’t seem to have helped me at all.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. I think walking is one of many things that will help in prevention but sine you already have it, it would be advised to have the treatment to rid yourself of it first. Has the NHS opened up for things like that yet?

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      1. It is only available at certain local doctor’s practices. My doctor tried manipulating my head, but it didn’t make me dizzy, and it didn’t cure anything. It is no longer as bad as it once was, but mainly because I have adapted my lifestyle around the symptoms.

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  2. I described my worst occasions as my brain doing backward somersaults that would not stop, and I could not control. Those were particularly scary and debilitating. Currently I have few episodes but, like beetleypete, I have adapted the way I do things and avoid some actions altogether. Many people still believe that vertigo is just a dizzy spell!

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    1. Peter, I must admit I never knew what it was like. It is definitely not like a dizzy spell. It can be debilitating. I only wish I had known about physical therapy much earlier.

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  3. I am so glad that you are now coping with the vertigo, and that the Physio Therapy is such a help.
    My hubby has benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, unfortunately he saw a Dr who failed to complete the Epely manoeuvre. He was not sent for PT. So unfortunately he suffers on and off but atl esst he knows what it is. 💜


    1. There are some exercises that can be one at home, but they did not work so well for me. If I had to pay for physical therapy myself, i would but I know that route is not an option for everyone. I feel for your husband.


    1. I hope you never get it, Cathy. Balance is why many older people take up Tai Chi. Unfortunately, Covid did away with many of those types of classes. I never realized how important vestibular health is and how powerful the brain is in producing the effect.

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  4. My granddaughter tried to talk me into some trampoline fun. And I opted out. Getting back up from getting down in the garden is enough fun for me at this stage of the game. Glad to hear your PT is working !

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  5. I’ve only know the room to spin once when I had the flu. I can’t imagine what you went through with this. It’s amazing to learn and relearn that our bodies are meant to be in motion, and there are consequences to interfering with the normal routine. I hope your vertigo does not reoccur.

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    1. I appreciate the kind wishes, Dan. I was fortunate to have two therapists that explained things so thoroughly and taught me how important it is to challenge my body.

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  6. I have the same issue but hesitated to diagnose you over the internet! I am grateful that you found the physical therapist. Yes doing the maneuver is awful as it increases the spinning but it does work. I am never clear when it is going to happen, but at least I know I am not dying of a brain tumor and I can move my head around and clear it up.

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