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Treating Vertigo and Dizziness with Physiotherapy

Vertigo and dizziness may not seem like issues that could be helped by physiotherapy, but it has been shown that certain physiotherapy exercises can help people suffering from frequent spells of vertigo or dizziness. This is known as Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy, and to understand how it works, we first need to understand what that means. The vestibular system is made up of the parts of the inner-ear and brain that control balance. Therefore, damage to this system can lead to dizziness, difficulty balancing, and vision problems. If the damage to the system is permanent, the body can be retrained to compensate for the damage.

Treatment

Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy is comprised of three main types of exercise: habituation, gaze stabilisation, and balance exercises.

Habituation exercises are used to treat people who experience dizziness as a result of damage to their vestibular system. The dizziness can be brought on either as a result of the patient moving or by visual stimuli e.g. watching TV or driving. The exercises aim to reduce the frequency and strength of the dizzy spells over time. This is accomplished by inducing light dizzy spells and gradually increasing the level of exposure, which enables the brain to get used to the stimulus, as well as build its tolerance for dizziness up. 

Gaze stabilisation is used for patients who have difficulty controlling the movements of their eyes, particularly when they are moving their heads. This not only makes it difficult for people to see their surroundings, but can lead to other issues such as headaches. Gaze stabilisation exercises can help people regain more control over their eyes. One of the most common exercises for gaze stabilisation is having the patient focus their eyes on a stationary object in front of them while moving their head from side to side. This helps to separate the movement of the eyes from the movement of the head. Another exercise is for the patient to keep their head still while following an object, such as a pen, from side to side with their eyes. This helps them to move their eyes without having to move their head as well.

Balancing exercises will vary more widely on a case by case basis than habituation or gaze stabilisation exercises. The exercises required will depend on the stimulus that triggers the issue. People may have difficulty balancing when walking outside, inside, on elaborately patterened floors, or around obstacles, to name a few examples. Performing tasks while standing or walking can be a major issue for people who have trouble balancing, as can moving through crowds or being surrounded by people.

These exercises can help people who are struggling with issues such as vertigo, dizziness, focus or balance. Few of the exercises are particularly strenuous, and most will get easier over time, but commitment and determination are necessary to get results. As each case is unique, a physiotherapist will need to examine the patient's case and lay out the appropriate exercises. Some of these can and will need to be done alone, although only under the instructions of a therapist. Improper exercises could exacerbate the problem, and there could be a risk of injury,  particularly for those who have balancing issues.