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2nd of 3 Columns on Balance Disorders and Falls Prevention

Last week we discussed the causes of balance loss. Today, we will discuss treatment for this problem. Two primary treatments are medication and vestibular rehabilitation.

1. Medication

Medication for dizziness and loss of balance requires a visit to your family doctor. In a more involved case, your family physician may refer you to a specialist such as an ear, nose and throat physician or neurologist. There are many medications available for loss of balance. While this can be complicated, the specialist will determine the most appropriate one for your balance disorder.

2. Vestibular Rehabilitation

Vestibular rehabilitation for dizziness and loss of balance is a great adjunct to medication to manage your balance disorder. It is a comprehensive program that addresses a wide range of problems that may cause imbalance such as: addressing the inability to tolerate motion, visual changes, providing balance rehabilitation, instruction in repositioning techniques for BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), correcting postural dysfunctions, muscle weakness, joint stiffness, offering education for prevention, maintenance and self care after discharge. Through experience and motion, vestibular rehabilitation allows: formation of internal models (one learns what to expect from ones actions), learning of limits (learning what is safe and what is not) and sensory weighting (one sense, either vision, vestibular or somatosensory is selected in favor of another in maintaining balance).

In some minor cases, vestibular rehabilitation may be performed at home. However, more serious cases may require an evaluation by a physician specializing in the dizzy patient such as an ear, nose and throat physician or neurologist. These specialists will determine the nature of your problem and may enroll you in a more structured program under the direction of a physical therapist. ­Vestibular rehabilitation addresses not only vertigo (i.e. dizziness) but also balance problems.   

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BBPV)

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and vestibular hypofunction (e.g. unilateral and bilateral vestibular loss) are two causes of vertigo that can be addressed by a vestibular rehabilitation. Your physical therapist will tailor a program designed to address your specific vestibular disorder (i.e. BPPV or hypofunction).

If you have been diagnosed with BPPV, your therapist may take you through an Epley maneuver. In BPPV, particles in the inner ear become displaced and get lodged in an area that produces vertigo. Vertigo is experienced with tilting head, looking up/down and rolling over in bed. The causes include: infection, head trauma and degeneration. During the Epley maneuver the patient is guided through positional changes which clear these particles from the symptomatic part of the ear.

If you have been diagnosed with either unilateral or bilateral vestibular hypofunction, your therapist will most likely design a program to “retrain” your vestibular system with special exercises, including:

If you have a vestibular problem that primarily manifests as loss of balance, exercises to stimulate your balance responses, strengthen your legs, and enhance your joint position sense may be helpful. These exercises encourage reliance on vestibular and/or visual input. The exercises are performed on unstable surfaces (i.e. tilt boards, balance beams, and foam) and include a variety of tasks from simple standing to more complex arm and leg movements requiring coordination.

Other Vestibular Treatment Options:

In addition to the above mentioned treatments, Posturography and Virtual Reality Training are computerized programs that may be used by your therapist to address your vestibular and/or balance problem. Also, Recreational Activities that involve using your eyes while head and body is in motion (i.e. dancing, golfing, tennis, walking while looking from side to side) are shown to be helpful in stimulating balance and vestibular responses. Furthermore, you may consider Alternative Balance Activities (i.e. Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates) which incorporate slow gentle movements to improve strength, balance and posture as well as relaxation techniques for the anxiety that accompanies dizziness/off-balance.

Whatever you do, just DO NOT give into your dizziness. People that just “give up” become sedentary. A sedentary lifestyle further denies your body the necessary stimuli to challenge your vestibular system and make it stronger. Eventually, these people end up in a vicious cycle because the more they sit the dizzier and more off balance they get which only makes them sit more! 

Remember, one fall increases your risk of another fall. It is imperative to determine what caused your fall and take action! Ask your physician or physical therapist to assess your fall risk.                                                                                             

Contributor: Janet M. Caputo, PT, DPT, OCS

Medical Reviewer: Mark Frattali, MD, ENT: Otolaryngology /Head Neck Surgery at Lehigh Valley Health Network

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog: Next Monday Part III on Balance Disorders and Falls Prevention

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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate clinical professor of medicine at GCSOM.

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