I will never forget the time when, a handful of years after I started practicing physical therapy, my mom mentioned in passing that she had been sleeping sitting up because she would get dizzy if she slept lying down. I don’t remember if she had already seen her doctor or whether that came later. But, I do remember yelling at her for sleeping sitting up instead of addressing it. Because, well...this is part of what I do.
Over the years I have given treatment and advice to both of my parents, siblings, friends, even random strangers at parties--because when people find out what you do, they need you to help them with their *insert body part* and STAT. Almost always the question is about a pain of some sort, which makes sense, this is what most people know about what a physical therapist does. But, as a PT who has specialized training in vestibular rehabilitation, dizziness is just as much a part of what I do as pain, and even my own mom didn’t know to ask me about it.
To explain what was going on with my mom, and how physical therapists help with dizziness issues, I’m going to have to back up a bit here and give you some science. Skip ahead a couple of paragraphs if your eyes start to glaze over.
All the Science
The vestibular system is composed of the inner ear, and parts of the auditory and visual systems, and a specific region of the brain where this information is processed. Each component of the vestibular system has a role in helping our body understand how we are interacting with our surroundings, and as a whole, the vestibular system is responsible for our sense of stability. Dizziness is the most common symptom of vestibular system dysfunction, but secondary symptoms such as nausea, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, or anxiety are also common and may cause as many issues as the dizziness itself.
The way a person describes their dizziness as well as the results of positioning and other physical tests can tell us what part of the system isn’t functioning. For example a room-spinning dizziness is generally different in origin than a boat-rocking dizziness which is different than a more internal sense of instability. Dizziness with certain head or body movements is usually different in origin than dizziness when you aren’t moving.
While some injury or diseases of the vestibular system permanently change the way information is processed, all conditions can benefit from treatment, and the most common vestibular disorder is completely reversible. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is the most common cause of dizziness associated with the vestibular system, and this is the type of vertigo my mom was dealing with. It is a form of “room-spinning” dizziness that is associated with head position and movement. Bouts can be mild or severe, usually last only a few seconds to a minute or two, and like my mom’s, often occur when first sitting up from lying down. But, the reason I was so angry that my mom wasn’t doing anything to fix it is because while symptoms can be more than just a nuisance--and result in major lifestyle changes like trying to sleep sitting up, it is relatively easy to treat. For patients with BPPV like my mom, a few exercises and targeted head/body maneuvers can completely rid them of their dizziness in just a few sessions.
So, consider this your PSA. If you or someone you know is struggling with dizziness, let us help! We will identify the cause of the dizziness and develop a program to address the issues. But, this PSA is also more than that. When it comes to your everyday function, physical performance, and quality of life, at Functionize Health and Physical Therapy we never want you to assume you have to “just deal with it.” We treat much more than simply pain and injuries, and if you aren’t sure if physical therapy can help you with your issue...ask us! We’re more than happy to help.
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After experiencing a variety of different approaches to physical therapy practice in Oregon and Utah, Sarah found her home in Functionize’s private-pay model giving the direction and decision-making power back to the patient. A firm believer in taking the whole human into account as opposed to focusing on a symptom, she is adept at creative approaches that lead to ah-ha moments around the root cause for pain or limitation.
At Functionize Health & Physical Therapy we work with athletes and active people at all levels to develop individualized treatment plans to help them safely and fully recover from injuries and get them back to the activities they love. If you have worked with us one-on-one, you know that we don’t subscribe to generic protocols or programs; it is never one-size-fits-all, and that applies to these tips as well. If you are recovering from an injury, talk to your PT about how stretching and or foam rolling may affect you.