Vestibular disorders can be debilitating conditions that can severely impact quality of life. Whether you’re an athlete, a weekend warrior, or just trying to keep up with your kids, vestibular disorders can make even the simplest of tasks a challenge. If you work out, train, or play a sport, a vestibular disorder can put a serious damper on your progress and enjoyment.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, suffering from a vestibular disorder can make everyday activities like running/jogging, bicycling, driving, cooking, and even getting a good night’s sleep a real struggle. Fortunately, there is help available in the form of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT).
What is Vestibular Therapy?
Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (or VRT) is a specialized form of therapy designed to alleviate problems caused by vestibular disorders.
VRT can help to improve balance, reduce dizziness and vertigo, and lessen feelings of nausea.
What is the Vestibular System?
The vestibular system provides us with our sense of balance and information about our body’s position, allowing rapid compensatory movements in response to self-induced and externally generated forces. (1)
Although we generally aren’t aware of its functioning, our vestibular system is crucial to our eye movements as well as our head and body posture/reflexes. (2) When the vestibular system is not working properly, various types of vestibular disorders can occur.
What is the goal of Vestibular Therapy?
While the specific goals of VRT will vary depending on the needs of the individual client, the overarching goal is to help patients overcome vestibular disorders and regain their quality of life.
VRT can help clients suffering from vertigo, dizziness, and imbalance. It can also help those who have suffered a vestibular injury or have had surgery to correct a vestibular disorder.
Types of Vestibular Disorders
There are many different types of vestibular disorders that can occur, each with their own set of symptoms. Some more common vestibular disorders include:
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): BPPV is one of the most common vestibular disorders, and is characterized by brief episodes of dizziness or vertigo that are brought on by certain head positions. (3)
- Labyrinthitis: This disorder is caused by inflammation of the inner ear labyrinth, and can lead to dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
- Ménière’s Disease: Ménière’s is a disorder of the inner ear that can lead to dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and hearing loss. (4)
- Vestibular Neuronitis: This disorder is caused by inflammation of the vestibular nerve, and can lead to dizziness and vertigo. Though the vertigo may subside relatively quickly, the dizziness may last for weeks or months, so Vestibular Therapy may be a helpful treatment (5).
How does VRT work?
VRT works by stimulating the vestibular system and helping the brain to adapt to the changes. This is done through a variety of exercises and activities that are designed to challenge the vestibular system.
As the client progresses through VRT, they will gradually be able to tolerate more challenging activities. This will help to retrain the brain and improve vestibular function.
What is Vestibular Therapy like?
VRT usually consists of a series of exercises that are specifically designed to retrain the brain to compensate for the loss of vestibular function. It is typically performed by a physiotherapist or other health professional trained in vestibular rehabilitation.
VRT is an individualized form of therapy, meaning that the exercises and activities are specifically tailored to each client’s needs. The practitioner will work with the client to develop a treatment plan that is based on their specific goals and abilities.
Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy in Victoria
At Continuum Health Centre in Victoria, BC, our team of practitioners work together to offer a wide range of performance, health and rehabilitation services; helping our clients regain their quality of life, return to their previous level of function, and reach their full potential.
As every client is different, each vestibular rehabilitation plan is specifically designed to meet the individual’s needs. To effectively treat clients affected by vestibular disorders, a customized VRT plan is derived from the findings of clinical assessments, laboratory testing and imaging studies, and input from clients.
- Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. Chapter 14, The Vestibular System. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10819/
- Kathleen Cullen and Soroush Sadeghi (2008) Vestibular system. Scholarpedia, 3(1):3013.
- Vertigo-associated disorders. (2021). https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001432.htm
- Ménière’s disease symptoms and treatments. (2020). https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/ears-nose-and-throat/menieres-disease
- Lustig, L. R. (2022). Vestibular Neuronitis. Merck Manuals Consumer Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/inner-ear-disorders/vestibular-neuronitis