Freeman Medical Musings Blog


Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy

Posted by Chris Peterson, DPT, on May 05, 2016

If you suffer from vestibular disorders – vertigo, dizziness, visual disturbance, imbalance – vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) may help relieve some of your symptoms. The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that process sensory information involved with controlling balance and eye movements. If disease or injury damages these processing areas, vestibular disorders can result in imbalance or dizzy spells. Dizziness can occur when an individual is standing still, lying down or changing positions. Symptoms can last from seconds to minutes, or sometimes days. For some people, symptoms are short and periodic; for others, they are constant. If not treated, vestibular disorders can affect quality of life and lead to anxiety and/or depression. Because some symptoms are severe and occur or worsen with daily activities, people experiencing vestibular disorders often adopt a sedentary lifestyle to avoid dizzy spells that result in falls. In turn, this can lead to poor physical well-being.

Each year, more than ten million patients seek medical treatment because of dizziness. It is the most common complaint of people 75 years and older, but can occur in patients of any age. Dizziness is a high risk factor for falls in elderly people and is the leading cause of serious injury and death in persons older than 65. Ten percent of falls caused by dizziness result in hospitalization.

VRT can improve a patient’s ability to function in everyday living activities, reduce the risk of falling and improve quality of life. Exercise-based programs can help improve balance and reduce dizziness. Once a vestibular disorder is diagnosed, the physician will either prescribe home exercises or refer the person to a physical therapist for further evaluation and treatment. Custom exercises can include vision stability training, posture training, stretching and strengthening exercises, balance retraining, neck motion exercises and walking. Some patients will require only one or two treatment sessions; others may require regular follow-up visits with their therapist for a few months. If patients are diligent about performing prescribed at-home exercises, balance and dizziness problems usually considerably decrease or disappear altogether.

VRT can help achieve the following outcomes:

  • Improved balance
  • Minimized falls
  • Decreased dizziness symptoms
  • Improved ability to stabilize vision
  • Improved stability during motion
  • Increased body strength
  • Improved neck motion with reduced symptoms
  • Decreased anxiety due to vestibular disorders

If you have experienced vestibular disorders, always introduce new daily activities slowly so you can adjust to them. If you begin to experience dizziness, contact your physician immediately. Don’t risk falling and seriously injuring yourself. Stay active, but be aware of your limitations.

Chris Peterson, DPT, obtained a Bachelor of Science in physical therapy at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri, and a Doctor of Physical Therapy from the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. He has been employed at Freeman Health System for 18 years where he currently is Clinical Coordinator of Outpatient Therapy.