Since we have been talking about balance and falls, we need to talk about what can often lead to falls: vertigo. Let’s start with the basics about vertigo. True vertigo is the sensation of spinning or movement (such as the sensation of swaying). If you’ve ever been sea sick, this is a bit like the swaying sensation, and if you ever got “the spins” in your younger years after too much fun with alcohol, this is similar to the sensation of spinning that some people exercise.
There are 2 types of vertigo: “Inner ear vertigo” is the most common type that we help people deal with in the clinic. I’ll discuss it more below. Central vertigo is related to damage to the balance centers of the brain. This includes things like strokes, MS and Parkinson’s. People with central vertigo tend to feel more unbalances or unsteady in general, versus having sudden attacks of spinning. Today I want to focus on inner ear vertigo. People with inner ear vertigo have very specific symptoms. Typically, they have a hard time turning their heads rapidly and walking in busy environments (like the mall). Certain positions can cause a sudden sensation of spinning which can be pretty scary at times. These positions include tipping the head back, bending forward, laying down in bed, or rolling over in bed.
What Does This Mean?
So what’s going on with these people? Do you remember when you were a kid and you would spin around in the grass until you got really dizzy and fell over?… The reason you felt dizzy after spinning is that you were moving the fluid around in your inner ear canals (you have a set of 3 canals on each side). Normally, when your head moves, the fluid in the canals also moves. And when you stop moving your head, the fluid stops. This gives your brain information about the position of your head in relation to gravity. This is confusing for your brain and results in the spinning sensation and the general sensation of feeling off-balanced.
The most common type of inner ear dysfunction that will cause this spinning sensation is called “BPPV”. This stands for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. Focus on those last 2 words: positional vertigo. As I mentioned, certain positions or head movements will result in vertigo. When the fluid moving through your inner ear canals is obstructed on one side, the information to your brain gets mixed up, and your brain gets confused. Have you ever had a friend tell you they had “rocks loose in their ears”?… This is the simple way to look at BPPV. Basically, small rocks or crystals from adjacent ear organs get dislodged. When they float over into the canals on one side, they can slow down or block the fluid movement on that side. And when the 2 sides start sending conflicting information to your brain, this results in confusion and the sensation of spinning.
While the spinning sensation is usually short in duration (lasting around 20-45 seconds), it can be very intense and is quite unpleasant… Luckily, this type of vertigo is extremely easy to fix in the clinic with some specific “repositioning” maneuvers. We test for BPPV by having you lay down quickly on one side with your head turned a specific direction and we watch your eyes and ask you to tell us if you are dizzy and when it passes. Then we wait for 30 seconds before we have you turn again. These different head turning and body turning positions move those “rocks” or “crystals” in the ear canals and let us know by your eye movements and your dizziness which side is affected. Then based on that information we can give you specific “repositioning” exercises to do to get those “rocks and crystals” in the correct position. When that happens for good you no longer get the wrong message to your brain and the dizziness is over. Usually this only takes a few sessions.
That’s it from me this week, I’ll be back next week to talk more about balance, falls and osteoporosis. Until then, have a great week!
Podcast Episode 9 Is LIVE!
Dr. Jennifer Penrose hosts a unique show this month. The topic? Opiates and their pain management alternatives. Every day we lose more than 120 people to opiates and that number isn’t substantially changing.
This episode talks about some of the risks of opiates but more importantly what other avenues you can take for pain management. Ever heard of electrical stimulation for pain? No? Give this episode a listen. Dr. Penrose also talks about what role physical therapists play in the world of pain management using holistic, personalized approaches that aren’t cookie-cutter. Also in this episode, what the facts behind CBD are. It gets a bad wrap but that’s changing. Let’s clear some of that bad air out and see what it can really do to help you.
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