Vestibular Therapy: The Safer, More Cost-Effective Treatment for Vertigo Sufferers

If you’ve ever suffered from an episode of vertigo, then you know how debilitating and scary it can be: Room spinning, loss of balance, barely able to walk or move… The traditional route of treatment is to get yourself rushed to the emergency room (ER), undergo a myriad of diagnostic tests to rule out anything serious (like a stroke or heart attack), and then, if they can’t find a “cause”, you’re typically sent on your way with medication and a referral to a specialist. 

Medications typically don’t do anything to resolve your vertigo but they will mask your symptoms.

And it can often take months to get an appointment with either a neurologist or ears, nose, throat (ENT) doctor. If, after this whole ordeal, you’re still suffering from dizziness/vertigo – you’re not alone. ER’s are notoriously bad at diagnosing and managing dizziness. Not only that, but it’s expensive. According to Dr. Newman-Toker, researcher and professor of neurology at John Hopkins University, the cost of emergency room visits due to dizziness now exceeds $10 billion per year. And almost half (43%) of all dizziness-related ER diagnoses are wrong. They are corrected once you get to a specialist who knows how to properly diagnose you.

So… if going to the ER when you’re suffering from a debilitating episode of dizziness/vertigo is not the best or most cost-effective treatment option… then what should you do? Enter Vestibular Therapy. It’s safer, more cost-effective, and it leads to long-term solutions that help you resolve your dizziness without medications or procedures. It’s not something a lot of people know about or fully understand – so let’s go through it to see if this is a treatment option you need and/or what’s been missing for you.

First – what exactly is vertigo – and how do you know if it can be treated with vestibular therapy?

Vertigo is a collection of symptoms, and not its own diagnosis. The symptoms you experience (dizziness, room spinning, disorientation, loss of balance) are the result of disturbances within your vestibular system, which is responsible for helping you maintain balance and spatial orientation. There are two distinct categories of vertigo: peripheral and central. Peripheral vertigo occurs when the peripheral components (located in your inner ear) of your vestibular system are affected. It’s caused by conditions such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuritis, or Meniere’s disease – and can lead to sudden episodes of dizziness, nausea, and imbalance. Central vertigo, on the other hand, arises from problems within your central nervous system (aka brain). Causes of central vertigo include things like stroke, multiple sclerosis, or tumors – and it manifests as a more sustained form of dizziness, typically accompanied by neurological symptoms. You need the correct diagnosis of vertigo in order for treatment to work. But the good news is that 80% of all vertigo is peripheral – and can be treated naturally with vestibular therapy. Plus, when you’re first examined by a vestibular therapy specialist, they will rule in or out any vertigo that could have a central cause, and you’ll be referred to the correct medical specialist immediately.

So what is vestibular therapy and how does it work?

Vestibular therapy is a specialized form of physical therapy designed to address specific components of peripheral vertigo within your inner ear , as well as enhance the communication between your brain and vestibular system to improve your overall balance. Vestibular therapy starts with an examination (by a trained vestibular physical therapy specialist) that includes various maneuvers and specialized vision and balance tests to determine the exact type of peripheral vertigo you’re dealing with. From there, the correct treatment plan can be developed. For those that are vaguely familiar with vestibular therapy, it’s often associated with full body maneuvers such as the Epley, Semont, or Foster – which can be scary and ineffective if you haven’t been examined properly. It’s important to note there are many more components to vestibular therapy – so if you’ve tried and failed at one of these in the past – there is still hope. A good vestibular therapy specialist will incorporate interventions to work on all three of your balance systems, as well as give you additional strategies for home, lifestyle, and diet – all aimed at improving the areas of your balance and coordination system that might not be working as well as they could be. 

Vertigo is a common condition that many people are forced to face alone and without proper treatment, primarily because the education and awareness around vertigo is so limited. If you or someone you know wants to avoid medications and procedures (that typically don’t work), and treat vertigo naturally and in a more holistic way – then vestibular therapy might be exactly what you’re looking for. If you need help finding a qualified vestibular therapy specialist, don’t hesitate to reach out.

If you are local to Portsmouth, NH – click here to speak with a vestibular specialist.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, email her at [email protected].