Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy: What It Is, How It Can Help, and How to Know If You Need It

January 10, 2019

Have you been struggling with dizzy spells, light-headedness, disorientation or vertigo? If so, it’s time to talk to your health care provider.

While it can be tempting to write episodes of dizziness or vertigo off as one-time events, it’s important to get this potential problem addressed as soon as possible. Not only could they be related to a larger medical issue — such as blood pressure or blood sugar problems, cardiac problems or even central nervous system disorders — but feelings of dizziness and instability can increase your fall risk. In fact, many people who experience dizziness or vertigo combat their fear of falling by becoming more sedentary and antisocial, which can lead to even more health problems.

If any of this sounds familiar, don’t worry: you aren’t alone. An estimated nearly 25 percent of people over the age of 72 have experienced recurrent dizziness for one reason or another. What’s most important is that you take steps to figure out what might be causing your dizziness or vertigo, and then take steps to improve it. And here’s the good news: if you are suffering from a vestibular disorder — such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or Meniere’s disease — the rehabilitation program at Kendal at Lexington can help.

Kendal at Lexington’s Director of Rehab, Dr. Savleen Juneja, explains that true vertigo and vestibular disorders are caused by the movement of calcium carbonate “crystals” within the canals of the inner ear. “Any change in the position of the head can cause those crystals to move, and that’s when [people] experience vertigo,” Dr. Juneja says. The accumulation of these displaced crystals in the inner ear can cause incorrect signals to be sent to your brain, which leads to dizziness and more severe vertigo.

Luckily, with vestibular rehabilitation therapy, this issue can be corrected and managed. The process involves various head movements designed to return the displaced crystals to their original location. “I start by putting their head in different positions to see if they become dizzy or not,” Dr. Juneja says. “Once I find the position and side that is affected, I perform different manuals to get the crystals back in place.”

For some people, the problem can be resolved in just one or two sessions, but Dr. Juneja cautions that it can take up to five for the dizziness to completely stop. And once you complete a vestibular rehabilitation therapy session, there are some precautions to follow to help increase the likelihood that the process will be effective. Dr. Juneja recommends following these instructions for the first 24 hours after a therapy session:

  1. Avoid lying flat. Use two pillows under your head to stay slightly propped up when you sleep.
  2. Don’t bend or twist your neck. Using gentle head movements for the first 24 hours after vestibular rehabilitation therapy helps to ensure that the crystals don’t move again.
  3. Cover your eyes while sleeping. A simple eye mask will do the trick.
  4. Get out of bed slowly. Avoid jerking movements that could affect the crystals or cause another dizzy spell. Sit up slowly and pause at the edge of the bed before standing.
  5. Anxiety can have a negative effect on healing and actually make the problem worse. Do your best to relax and avoid unnecessary stress.

Once you complete your vestibular rehabilitation therapy sessions, you’ll be placed on a home exercise program that will help stabilize your balance and improve your gate stability. Ideally, the problem will then be resolved and you can go about your daily life as normal.

Above all, Dr. Juneja stresses the importance of making an appointment with your physician if you are experiencing dizziness or vertigo symptoms — to first rule out any other problems, but also to receive a referral for therapy if the issue is vestibular. “I have seen people really suffer from this disease or disorder,” Dr. Juneja says. “It’s really important to address because it affects your quality of life and increases your fall risk, your fear of falling, inactivity and social isolation.”

Don’t waste any more time suffering from dizziness or vertigo when there could be relief in your future. Kendal at Lexington offers both inpatient and outpatient professional therapy services and accepts most insurance.  For more information, give us a call at 540-464-2630.