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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.

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On Feeling Old and Vulnerable

I have always embraced age and never had the decade induced trauma some people experience as they age. My forties were my best decade I think, but none have been bad as far as feeling my age. Of course, as changes happen, we do recognize the aging process. I have always felt young in my mind while my outward appearance would try to convince me otherwise.

Yesterday, however, I felt old and vulnerable, perhaps for the first time. Since the onset of vertigo three years ago, everything about how I manage my body has changed. I now sleep in one position always. I know what movements are safe and which are not. I live in dread of having another attack and do all I can to avoid it.

Then add that to Covid-based fears. I remember feeling shocked last year to learn my age made me vulnerable regardless of how good I felt. Man, this age thing was starting to matter. I have noticed my conversations with similarly aged friends often contain some question or comment about our ailments which reminded me of being a child and wondering why old people always talked about their maladies.

But back to yesterday — the combination of vertigo fears and Covid fears have kept me away from the dentist for too long. I was well overdue and when I started to feel some sensitivity, I broke down and scheduled an appointment. I do not have a fear of dentists, but let me tell you I was riding high on anxiety when I walked into the office. We went through all the Covid questions and the temperature checks then went back to the exam room.

She read my chart and asked me about my vertigo. The hygienist and the dentist were both so caring and understanding. They gave me a pillow for my neck which helped immensely because I have some arthritis in my neck. I did have to ask them to bring the chair back up for a moment because I was feeling uneasy. She slowly raised the chair from its reclining position. She actually ended up cleaning my teeth standing up which she said they do often with patients who have back or neck injuries.

As they worked with me I remember being struck with the idea of being old and vulnerable. They treated me the way I like to treat old people. Yes, folks, I am getting older and more vulnerable and it is an uneasy feeling. I do not think I will feel like that the next time I go in because I know now they will respect my condition, but yesterday, I fit the part perfectly of an older vulnerable woman and I did not like it one bit.

That second Moderna shot tomorrow cannot come soon enough for this old lady.

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Out of Commission Again – Just Like That

Yesterday morning while half-asleep I turned my head from right to left and I felt it. It was 5:00 AM.and the world starting spinning. It was not as bad as it has been, but I recognized right away it was vertigo. I thought about taking medication, but it fills me with lethargy and I hoped to shake it off by being very careful of my head movements – side-to-side and up-and-down.

I spent the day moving very gingerly through the day. I thought I was doing well, until my husband stopped at my chair and I looked up at him. I could feel the world start to move around me. I was able to prepare dinner with his help any time that bending over was required.

Last night I opted to take the medicine knowing it would make me sleep for a long time. I woke this morning at 7:00 AM, spoke to my daughter at 7:30 AM and by 9:00 AM I fell asleep in the chair with my coffee cup in my hand. I retreated to the room with the recliners, propped myself up with pillows and fell fast asleep. There I remained until 2:00 PM.

I woke to a quiet house. Made myself a sandwich as I remembered hubby went for a violin lesson. He has cleaned up the kitchen and run the dishwasher. The only big decision I will make today is whether or not I take more medication before going to bed tonight. It is a simple over-the-counter non-drowsy medication – Dramamine – but this is how my body reacts.

I blame myself. I was just thinking the other day I must be ‘cured’ because it had been so long since I had an attack. Serves me right for thinking such things.

Don’t let the universe hear your mindless uttering.

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Vertigo and My Antihistamine Fog

Day 302

I woke this morning with a slight case of vertigo. I took Dramamine and now I am in an antihistamine fog. Most over-the-counter medicines make me really sleepy and today is no exception.

I had my first vertigo attack about 16 months ago. It happened in the middle of the night and it was so violent I thought I was having a stroke. I truly thought it was the end of the road.

I did the exercises and took medication that made me sleep around the clock. Not a fun way to live. No driving. Heck, even riding was a challenge.

Vertigo means trying not to bend over. No quick movements. No looking up or down or side to side. It means making sure you have someone in the next room when you shower. It means counting steps so there is no need to look down. It means maybe I will not be able to attend my class this week.

It means doing the exercises which makes the room spin at top speed. It means feeling worse before you feel better. It may mean nausea so bad you throw up.

It means taking hours to type a blog on your phone so you can have the screen completely and directly in front of your face.

I hope you never experience it. But with all that, there is so much worse I could be dealing with. I have a lot of people in my family dealing with much more far-reaching medical issues.

Now I am going to go nap and hope this passes. On a positive note I have learned to sleep sitting straight up in a chair.

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Alternative Healing

Day 150

Aches and pains seem to increase with this aging process. Every week there is some new little aggravating thing to contend with. In my head, I’m still in my 40’s, but a quick creak of the bones puts that fantasy to rest.

Some of it is self-inflicted. For example, when I had several months of recurring bouts of vertigo, I changed the way I sleep. The first vertigo attack came on early in the morning while I was sleeping. I thought sure I was having a stroke. The type of vertigo I have is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. My first attack was violent. The room felt as if it was spinning 100 mph and I was helpless to stop it.

I won’t go into all the details about my treatment other to say that I no longer allow myself to sleep on my right side. As a result, I have body aches from lying in one position all night long. And that brings me to my discussion on alternative treatments to treat arthritis pain, vertigo or aches associated with climbing up there in years.

Reiki

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Image from Pixabay.com

My daughter gave me a reiki session when I went to see her last fall. She said my chakras were way out of kilter (my word, not hers). It did seem to help a lot. Next week I am going to visit again and she has promised another Reiki session while I am visiting for which I am so thankful.

She suggested I try a session with their acupuncturist after I have my Reiki session with her. More about acupuncture below.

Chiropractic Care

I have always thought about seeing a chiropractor. I have an unfounded fear of a chiropractor breaking my old brittle bones. My granddaughter gets frequent adjustments but her chiropractor only does ART ( active release technique) which deals with soft tissue. People either love or hate chiropractors. I am always unnerved when I read the disclaimers saying improper chiropractic care can cause serious neck injuries or herniated disc injuries if done improperly. Yikes!

Cupping

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Image from Pixabay.com

I know very little about cupping except that my granddaughter, a serious swimmer, also has this treatment. It looks horrible and leaves a terrible mark for days. I am not sold on this one. When my daughter-in-law had it for the first time, it caused a vertigo attack. That, in itself, is enough for me to say no.

Acupuncture

I am not a fan of needles, but this I have given a great deal of consideration. I know people who swear acupuncture healed their vertigo. I also know people who have acupuncture as an ongoing treatment for chronic pain and they say it helps them a great deal.

Floating

Recently, the idea of sensory deprivation through floating has come to my attention. When I read that one hour of floating is the equivalent of four hours of sleep, it piques my interest. I watched a short video where a journalist was monitored by a doctor while floating. At the end of the 60 minutes, brain wave activity had slowed down as had respiration and heart rate – dramatically. I have a friend that swears by it, so it’s on my radar of things to consider. I do worry about it setting off my vertigo.

Time to Weigh In

I tend to resort to more Western medicine with the addition of things like massage and Reiki. But I am curious about other methods. So, if you have tried any of these alternative therapies, I would be interested in hearing about your experience.