Over 90 million people (42 percent of the American population) experience feelings of dizziness, vertigo, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this encounter becomes a long-term condition. Dizziness is the number 1 reason that individuals over the age of 75 visit doctors, and falls due to a loss of balance are the leading cause of death and serious injury in people over the age of sixty five.

Most (75%) of these cases are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders in the inner ear; examples of these conditions include labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula, vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and Ménière’s disease. These disorders cause abnormalities in the delicate areas of the inner ear that disrupt our ability to maintain and control our sense of balance. Most of the cases of dizziness and vertigo occur in adults, but these conditions can affect children as well, with even greater impact because they are often involved with athletics or playground activities in which a sense of balance is key.

There are surgical and drug treatments for these conditions, but 1 of the alternative therapies is called Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT), a form of physical therapy that uses specialized sets of movements to stimulate and retrain the vestibular system. The Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy exercises are individually prescribed for each patient’s symptoms and complaints, but in general they consist of gait training, eye exercises and head movements designed to reduce symptoms and improve stability. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy cites its goals as seeking to improve balance, decrease the experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when walking or moving, improve coordination, minimize falls, and reduce anxiety.

For many people suffering from bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss and the conditions described above, Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy has often been shown to be effective in reducing their symptoms. The effectiveness of VRT in patients suffering from these conditions who did not respond to earlier treatment methodologies has been proven in several clinical trials. On the other hand, Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy is not as likely to be beneficial if the underlying cause of dizziness or vertigo is due to transient ischemic attacks (TIA), low blood pressure, reactions to medications, migraine headaches or anxiety or depression.

It is difficult to provide a general overview of the VRT exercises because they are individually tuned to and prescribed for each patient. But are all taught by trained VRT therapists, and often involve movements of the head, eyes, and body that enable your brain and body to retrain themselves and regain control over their equilibrium and balance, compensating more effectively for the incorrect information sent to them from their inner ear. If you have experienced long-term symptoms of vertigo or dizziness, consult a balance specialist and ask for more information. You can also get more information from the pamphlets and training materials provided by the Vestibular Disorders Association.