Back to Health

Vestibular Rehabilitation

Vestibular (inner ear) disorders can cause dizziness, vertigo, imbalance, hearing change, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and symptoms, with potentially devastating effects on quality of life. Diagnosing and treating vestibular disorders is not always straightforward. In addition, such disorders are often "invisible," making it difficult for others to understand how disabling they can be.

If the brain cannot rely on the information it receives from the vestibular system, a person's ability to maintain posture and coordinate balance can become overly dependent on vision or on the information received from the muscles and joints (proprioception). This can lead to developing new patterns of movement to compensate for the change and to avoid head movements that are apt to create symptoms of dizziness and nausea. These types of adaptation can result in headache, neckache, muscle stiffness, general fatigue, and a decrease in the ability to retrain the brain to adjust to the vestibular problem, hence making the symptoms much worse.

The goal of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) is to retrain the brain to recognize and process signals from the vestibular system in coordination with information from vision and proprioception. During VRT a qualified therapist will first perform a thorough evaluation. This includes observing posture, balance, movement, and compensatory strategies. Using the result of this evaluation, the therapist will develop an individualized treatment plan that will include exercises to be performed both in therapy and at home and that combine specific head and body movements with eye exercises.

In most cases, balance improves if the exercises are correctly and faithfully performed. Muscle tension, headaches, and fatigue will diminish, and symptoms of dizziness, vertigo, and nausea will decrease or disappear. Many times VRT is so successful that no other treatment is required. If surgery is required to correct an inner ear problem, therapy will also be an important part of treatment, often continuing after a person has recovered from the surgery.