If you have not already experienced vertigo, you have a 50% chance of dealing with at least one episode at some time in your life. If you are over the age of 50 and a woman, you face a slightly higher risk. This condition can range from being a brief, annoying health issue to a severe and debilitating problem. The sooner it is treated by a medical professional, the better for the patient.
According to CORA PT Simpsonville Clinical Manager Stephanie Stewart, PT, DPT, OCS, “Vertigo can be caused by many different things, such as an inner ear problem created when small calcium particles or ‘crystals’ dislodge from their normal position; Meniere’s disease, which can cause a buildup of fluid and changing pressure in the ear; infection; trauma; and less common problems such as a tumors, medications and migraines. It can be tricky to unravel this type of problem, but it may be diagnosed by a family physician; an emergency room physician; and ear, nose and throat specialist; or a physical therapist. I see many patients who come in for balance problems or dizziness, and they have underlying vertigo that needs to be addressed.”
In the past, physical therapy was not considered to be an option for treating vertigo, but that has changed. More family physicians and general practitioners are aware of and comfortable referring their patients to physical therapists who are trained in this area, and patients can also self-refer. The specific physical therapy protocol will be determined by the cause of the vertigo. For example, patients with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo receive head maneuvers to realign the crystals in the inner ear. Other activities such as eye movements, balance training and movement retraining also can decrease the symptoms of vertigo.
After doing the head maneuvers, patients may be taught how to do home exercises and movements to continue the adjusting process. Standing on uneven pads to work on balance by challenging their center of gravity and directing eyes to different targets are two other common treatment protocols.
Stewart is mindful that every patient is unique in treatment procedure and also in length of time for recovery.
“I wish there was a magic number, but every patient is different. It’s not uncommon for me to see patients for one session, treat them and then they are fine. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. Some patients need multiple sessions to correct the inner ear problem or to retrain with techniques that decrease their overall symptoms. It all depends on the cause of their vertigo,” she explained.
“There is a good chance that physical therapy can help vertigo symptoms go away completely, but, again, that depends on the overall cause. If the patient has symptoms of BPPV where the crystals are not in the correct area, then therapy can often resolve the symptoms. If there is any underlying medical condition or infection, it may take longer for symptoms to resolve or lessen. In this case, patients will often go through therapy until they progress to completing exercises on their own with a home program,” she added.
With 20 years of experience in physical therapy – 6½ years with CORA – Stewart has been passionate about physical therapy for most of her life. She was impacted by the role of a physical therapist in a movie she saw while in the seventh grade, and she has never wavered in her calling.
Stewart and her family moved to the Upstate of South Carolina in 2021 and “couldn’t be happier making memories here together.”
For more information about treating vertigo with physical therapy, call CORA Physical Therapy in Simpsonville at 864-214-0430, or visit coraphysicaltherapy.com.
By Janet E Perrigo