Feeling dizzy? It might be your inner ear

pt HealthOccupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Vestibular Rehabilitation

Dizziness can come from many different sources, some of which can be helped by a specialized branch of rehabilitation medicine called vestibular rehabilitation.  The vestibular system includes the balance organs in our inner ears and the parts of the brain involved in processing the information about head movement and position coming from these organs.

Typically, dizziness related to the vestibular system can be provoked or worsened with certain changes in head position or with increased head movement, and reduced when the head is still (as opposed to dizziness from a blood-pressure or medication problem where head movement isn’t likely to make any difference).

The inner ear can have a major effect on you

Vestibular/inner ear issues will typically affect one’s balance, making you feel a little less steady on your feet, especially in situations where you are on a soft or uneven surface, or in a busy¬†or darkened environment.

Depending on the type of problem, inner ear dizziness can also make it a little more difficult to focus one’s eyes when the head is in motion, then vision returns to normal once the head movement stops. Sometimes one’s dizziness is even being mildly influenced by a neck or jaw problem, such that the more they move these areas or have stiffness/pain there, the more they feel a vague sense of dizziness.

Those are the more typical scenarios, however, people may have a more transient inner ear problem where there are attacks of vertigo lasting hours, regardless of head position/movement/environment. They may also have problems not in the ear(s) but in the part of the brain that processes the balance information from the ear, in which case symptoms may again feel more constant and less affected by head movement. In these scenarios, medical management is in order, but vestibular rehabilitation still often has a role to play.

Our assessment can help distinguish which of all these possible areas are involved.

Vestibular disorders can bring real risks

When a person has a vestibular disorder, they can become over-reliant on their visual cues and proprioceptive cues (information about movement and position from the pressure sensors, muscles and joints in your body), in order to feel oriented.¬†This puts a person at risk of increased symptoms in scenarios that are challenging for the visual system, such as scrolling on the computer, being in a darkened environment, watching a lot of motion (like an action show on TV, or watching a lot of traffic or people going by) ‚Äď even if you aren‚Äôt actually moving.

As well, a similar risk of increased symptoms when the proprioceptive system is challenged, like in a moving vehicle, especially when you are not the driver and cannot plan or predict when adjustments of the car speed and direction are going to take place, or being on uneven or soft surfaces.

Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) can help to sort out the sometimes numerous areas contributing to one’s symptoms, and address issues arising from the vestibular system through customized and targeted exercises for the individual.

Check out our vestibular rehabilitation page learn more about vestibular assessment and treatment, and where to find help with your dizziness or balance problem.

This blog originally appeared on Lifemark.ca and was written by Abeed Hirji, Certified Vestibular Therapist and Occupational Therapist, at Lifemark Physiotherapy.


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