Physical Therapy - Vertigo

Pat Alexander is a physical therapy patientStop the Spinning

46-year-old Patricia Alexander of Mendon had been living with vertigo for eight years before being treated by the physical therapists at Milford Regional. Vertigo is the sensation of dizziness that causes you to feel like your surroundings are spinning. While vertigo is painless, it can be severe and life altering. “I was so dizzy I couldn’t open or close my eyes,” Patricia recalls. “I couldn’t move my head in certain ways. To sleep I had to use four pillows and sleep with a light on. My husband had to help me in and out of the car. Until you experience it, there is no way to explain it.”

Patricia was diagnosed with a type of vertigo called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV. BPPV, like its name suggests, is dizziness that occurs when position is changed. It occurs when tiny crystals inside the ear become dislodged and move into one of the ear’s canals. Recent estimates suggest between 10 and 64 people per 100,000 are affected by BPPV each year.

BPPV is most commonly caused by head trauma in patients under the age of 50. Inner ear damage and migraines have also been associated with BPPV. But often times the cause can’t be found. The most common symptoms include dizziness, spinning sensations, blurry vision, lightheadedness and a loss of balance. Getting out of bed or rolling in bed can trigger the symptoms. Some people also experience nausea and vomiting.

Symptoms typically come and go, as they did for Patricia. “Over the years I had bouts of vertigo here and there,” she explains. “None were as bad as the first time, but I became afraid of moving my head certain ways or changing positions too quickly.”

Patricia’s mother also experienced BPPV and told her about a treatment called the Epley maneuver. Patricia immediately called Milford Regional’s rehabilitation site in Milford where she had gone for treatment on her shoulder years before. “I went back to Milford Regional because the physical therapists there definitely know what they’re doing,” she states with assurance. “They really helped me with my shoulder. Also, there weren’t a lot of places that offer the Epley maneuver or even know what it is.”

The Epley maneuver, also called repositioning therapy, uses deliberate movements of the head to reposition the displaced crystals back to the part of the ear where they naturally rest. "Treatment is working patients through maneuvers and exercises until the crystals are repositioned,” explains Renée Halliday, PT, physical therapy supervisor. “Some patients with BPPV experience a loss of balance, so we work with them on keeping their balance and improving equilibrium by using different surfaces, exercises and techniques. We also teach patients exercises for their eyes to reduce their dizziness.” Renée is quick to add that treatment is always specific to the patient. "Every patient comes in with different goals,” she emphasizes “For some it’s just to stop the dizziness, while others want to prevent falls and still others want to run a marathon. Before we begin any therapy, we try to understand what the patient wants and then customize the treatment.”

Most patients who undergo this type of physical therapy need between one and five sessions. Patricia needed four before she was symptom free. “I was so anxious because it just seemed so strange to have my head repositioned like that – it’s what made me dizzy in the first place,” Patricia recollects. “But Renée was great. She explained it to me and reassured me until I was comfortable.”

After the first session Patricia didn’t feel better, but Renée told her what to expect. After the second session she began to feel better. By the fourth and last session she was completely symptom free and remains so today. Renée understands the anxiety. “Patients come in and they’re naturally scared. But we see this every day and sometimes just telling them that is comforting.”

“It’s like a miracle,” Patricia marvels. “I tell everyone. I only wish I had known about this therapy years ago. The physical therapists here have such a broad range of knowledge and experience. They’re just the best. I don’t have to worry about every little head turn anymore. I can do normal things again, like working out, lying flat and driving a car. It’s changed my life.”

For more information about Milford Regional’s physical therapy program, please call the location nearest you.

Milford: 508-422-2388
Franklin: 508-528-2748
Northbridge: 508-234-8792

Or go to Milford Regional's Physical Therapy Program

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