Physical Therapy Puts a Different Spin on Battling Vertigo
For an entire generation that still remembers 8-track tapes and dial-up Internet, most only know the term “vertigo” as the title of a 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film. This classic film tells the story of a former San Francisco detective (James Stewart) whose fear of heights hinders his assignment to protect a young woman. The only problem is vertigo has nothing to do with a fear of heights. What we do know is that at least 69 million people in the United States have suffered from vertigo at
some point, and about eight million Americans suffer from chronic balance issues regularly, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). And at least one-third of sufferers are over the age of 50. Vertigo is caused by crystals contained in the utricle which become dislodged and enter one of the inner ear’s three semi-circle canals, which produces dizziness symptoms when the head is moved into certain positions. Ways the crystals may enter the semi-circular canal are through head trauma, viral infection or a prior history of vertigo. For example, a person experiencing vertigo may feel like the room is spinning while he or she is standing still, kind of like being stationary while the world is a giant carousel. It is disorienting and downright
terrifying if you have never experienced it before. The first time someone experiences vertigo their first instinct is to visit a doctor. And in doing so, it is
very likely that your doctor may prescribe medications to combat the symptoms, such as Antivert, Phenergan, Reglan, Meclizine, perhaps even Zofran or Valium. Unfortunately, these medications only serve to dull the feelings of nausea and dizziness but will not cure the vertigo.
This is where physical therapy comes into play. I have heard over the years from patients I have treated, that vertigo is a very real concern. And as a physical therapist it was frustrating to hear this and feel I was unable to give them the relief they needed, whereas the treatment of vertigo is a specialized, highly-skilled
aspect of PT. It takes a special evaluation, learned through years of clinical training. But the good news is we now have that person on our staff.
Tessa Riccio recently joined our team as a physical therapist who, through her extensive training in the areas of vestibular-related conditions, possesses the skill to evaluate the problem areas related to vertigo. By utilizing different positioning or exercises, Tessa can actually reposition the crystals back to where they should be, thus shutting down the problem at its source. This is what’s known as canal repositioning maneuvers, where the patient’s head is repositioned to move the stones to their normal position. Tessa’s training in treating vertigo involved undergoing 12-weeks of extensive clinical training, focusing almost exclusively on vestibular-related diagnosis. Tessa says it was a long journey, but one well worth taking. “I almost came upon this level of training by accident,” recalls Tessa. “While I was doing my clinical studies in Nashville, it was by chance that my instructor was an expert in treating vestibular-related conditions, such as vertigo. I became intrigued in the field, and although it was very challenging, I am excited that I now have the chance to work with our patients who suffer from this ailment, and to let them
now know relief is very possibly only one or two visits away.” One of the aspects of Tessa’s treatment that I find very refreshing is how she will go into details about
what is actually causing the symptoms. Our patients appreciate that.
According to Tessa Riccio, here are a few of the advantages that physical therapy has for vertigo patients:
● We can assess your problem and see how mild or severe your case of vertigo is. Note that doing techniques yourself can do you more harm than good, and so a visit to the physical therapist can help you get your treatment running the right way, and keep it on course.
● We can advise you on the frequency of the exercise, and the general routine to follow, based on your individual requirements.
● We can re-evaluate you to check if there is any reduction in your symptoms. Regular evaluation helps to track your progress, and can also help to determine the effectiveness of the exercises your therapist has given you.
The treatment of vertigo is no longer a mystery. Whereas it was common in the past to make frequent trips to the pharmacy, or try to self-resolve the issue by lying in a dark room for hours at a time, there is now a quick and painless way to fight this ongoing problem, without sacrificing your quality of life. So the next time the room takes you for a ride, know that a physical therapist is now available to put you back in control of your life