Keta White, P.T.,  and Eric Darling, P.T., are physical therapists at the Rehabilitation Outpatient Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Keta White, P.T., and Eric Darling, P.T., are physical therapists at the Rehabilitation Outpatient Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Vertigo: Some people describe it as dizziness; others say it feels like the world is spinning around them. Still others describe it as the worst sensation they have ever felt. These are just some of the words we hear people use when they talk about their experience with positional vertigo. For some, the symptoms are mild, but for others it may prevent them from getting out of bed.

While there are many potential causes of vertigo, the most common cause of vertigo is positional vertigo, or Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). The name is complicated enough to make anyone’s head spin!
isThe spinning sensation is caused by small crystals in the inner ear. These crystals get into the fluid-filled semicircular canals of the ear where they do not belong. This scrambles the process by which messages are sent to the brain about the position and movement of the head. Normally, these canals tell us what direction our head is moving in and are a part of our vestibular system, which is important for maintaining our balance.

Why do the crystals end up in the canals if they are not supposed to be there? Most of the time we don’t know why. Sometimes it can happen after a bump on the head. We do know that it is more common as we age; although, we see people of all ages in our clinic with positional vertigo.

Positional vertigo can make life difficult and even dangerous. For the elderly, it can increase the risk of falls. Some people can’t work when they have vertigo. People often have to be very careful about how they move and avoid certain activities for fear of triggering an episode of vertigo. Many times, positional vertigo can last for several days or weeks and in some instances can last for months and even years.

Many people don’t realize that positional vertigo can often be successfully treated by a physical therapist who has been trained to evaluate and treat this problem. Even people who have experienced positional vertigo for years may benefit from treatment, without having to take any medication.

How does a physical therapist treat positional vertigo? After determining which ear canal is causing the problem, we assist the person through a series of head positions that will get the crystals back to where they belong.  This may involve assisting a person from a seated position to lying down to rolling on their side then sitting up again. This is all done with guidance from the physical therapist to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the treatment.

If you have positional vertigo, we encourage you to get the help you need. We’re here to help you!

Keta White, PT,  and Eric Darling, PT, are physical therapists at the Rehabilitation Outpatient Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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