Vertigo – What Is It, and How Can PT Help?

High JumpVertigo is described as a sensation of feeling lightheaded or dizzy. The room may feel like it is spinning or you may feel a general sensation of being “off-balance”. It can last for only a few seconds or as long as several hours, and can remain exacerbated for weeks or, even months. It can also be associated with nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), headache, and nystagmus (jerky movement of the eye) (2).  It is typically caused by a disconnect between the body’s sensory input and the brain’s signal. It is essentially, a “confused” system, resulting in a disruption of the body’s ability to determine where it is in space. There are several underlying causes for vertigo including, but not limited to:


  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV),
  • Meniere’s Disease,
  • Vestibular Neuritis or Labyrinthitis,
  • Trauma to the head/neck,
  • Medications,
  • Brain injury.


As cited by the Vestibular Disorders Association, and according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD):


One recent large epidemiological study estimates that as many as 35% of adults aged 40 years or older in the United States—approximately 69 million Americans—have experienced some form of vestibular dysfunction.1 According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a further 4% (8 million) of American adults report a chronic problem with balance, while an additional 1.1% (2.4 million) report a chronic problem with  – dizziness alone.2 Eighty percent of people aged 65 years and older have experienced dizziness,3 and BPPV, the most common vestibular disorder, is the cause of approximately 50% of dizziness in older people.4 Overall, vertigo from a vestibular problem accounts for a third of all dizziness and vertigo symptoms reported to health care professionals.5 (1)


While symptoms of Vertigo can be both scary and frustrating, it is treatable. An examination provided by your doctor or physical therapist can help better determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and help direct appropriate treatment. Several treatment options available include:


  • Canalith Repositioning Maneuvers – The physical therapist performs this technique in order to restore appropriate positioning of canaliths (calcium crystals) in the inner ear to improve the signal from the inner ear to the brain
  • Vestibular Ocular Reflex Exercises -The physical therapist will prescribe a series of these exercises in order to restore signals sent to and from the brain, inner ear and the eyes.
  • Medication – Can be prescribed by your doctor in order to “dampen” the signal and reduce symptom intensity.


If you are someone suffering from chronic or acute vertigo, you have options available to you that can restore your quality of life. While vertigo sometimes self -resolves, treatment can and will facilitate faster recovery and may help prevent a fall due to impaired balance. Don’t wait to get help.




  2. About Vestibular Disorders. (2018, January 24). Retrieved January 21, 2019, from




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