Over ninety million people (fourty two percent of the American population) experience feelings of dizziness, vertigo, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this experience becomes a chronic condition. In the elderly, dizziness is the most common reason that people over seventy five visit a doctor, and for people over sixty five, falls resulting from a loss of balance are the number one cause of death and serious injury.

Approximately three-fourths of these cases of loss of balance and dizziness are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders that affect the middle and inner ear, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma, Ménière’s disease and labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula. These disorders cause abnormalities in the delicate areas of the inner ear that disrupt our ability to maintain and control our sense of balance. Most of the cases of vertigo and dizziness occur in adults, but these conditions can affect children as well, with even greater impact because they are often involved with athletics or playground activities in which a sense of balance is key.

There are surgical and drug treatments for these conditions, but one of the alternative therapies is called Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT), a form of physical therapy that uses specialized sets of movements to stimulate and retrain the vestibular system. VRT exercises are prescribed individually for each patient’s specific symptoms and often involve the use of head movements, eye exercises and gait training designed to improve patients’ gaze and stability. The goals of VRT are to improve balance, minimize falls, decrease the subjective experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when walking or moving, improve coordination, and reduce the anxiety they often feel as a result of their condition.

Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms for many people suffering from the conditions mentioned above, and for those with other forms of bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss. Several studies have confirmed VRT’s effectiveness in patients who did not respond to other treatment methodologies. On the other hand, Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy is not as likely to be beneficial if the underlying cause of dizziness or vertigo is due to reactions to medications, migraine headaches, transient ischemic attacks (TIA), low blood pressure or anxiety or depression.

Because the specific exercises in a regimen of VRT vary according to the patient’s symptoms and conditions, it is not easy to give an overview of them. But are all taught by trained VRT therapists, and often involve movements of the head, eyes, and body that enable your brain and body to retrain themselves and regain control over their equilibrium and balance, compensating more effectively for the incorrect information sent to them from their inner ear. Consult a balance specialist if you have experienced dizziness or vertigo for long periods of time, and if an inner ear cause of the problem is indicated, ask for more information about VRT. You may also want to contact the Vestibular Disorders Association and take advantage of many of their short publications and resource materials.