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Feelings of vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance are more prevalent than most people imagine; 42 percent of the United States population (ninety million people) experience this at least once during their lifetime, and for many the situation becomes chronic. Dizziness is the number 1 reason that individuals over the age of seventy five visit doctors, and falls due to a loss of balance are the leading cause of serious injury and death in people over the age of 65.

Most (75 percent) of these cases are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders in the inner ear; examples of these conditions include Ménière’s disease, vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma, labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). These disorders cause abnormalities in the delicate areas of the inner ear that disrupt our ability to maintain and control our sense of balance. Although most cases of chronic dizziness and vertigo occur in adults, the condition can affect children suffering from it even more, because they are so active that a lack of balance can prevent them from engaging in sports or other activities.

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 eye exercises, head movements and gait training designed to reduce symptoms and improve stability. The goals of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy are to improve balance, minimize falls, decrease the subjective experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when moving or walking, improve coordination, and reduce the anxiety they often feel as a result of their condition.

For many people suffering from bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss and the conditions described above, VRT 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. It is not as likely to be beneficial if a patient’s symptoms are the result of reactions to medications, migraine headaches, anxiety or depression, low blood pressure or transient ischemic attacks (TIA).

Because the specific exercises in a regimen of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy vary according to the patient’s symptoms and conditions, it is not easy to give an overview of them. But most of the exercises involve therapist-led movements of the head and body to help your brain and body retrain themselves to compensate for the erroneous information they are receiving from their inner ear, and thus regain control over their balance and equilibrium. Consult a balance specialist if you have experienced vertigo or dizziness for long periods of time, and if an inner ear cause of the problem is indicated, ask for more information about VRT. You can also get more information from the pamphlets and training materials provided by the Vestibular Disorders Association.