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What is vestibular hypofunction and how can PT help you manage the symptoms?

A surprising 35% of Americans suffer from vestibular hypofunction, or permanent damage to the inner ear. The inner ear is one of the main organs in the vestibular system that gives someone spatial awareness and a sense of balance. A healthy vestibular system allows a person’s movements to be smooth, steady and confident. But if the inner ear is damaged due to trauma, infection or lack of blood flow, serious symptoms can occur. Those symptoms can include:

  • Dizziness and vertigo.
  • Motion sickness.
  • Headaches.
  • Frequent trips or falls due to a loss of balance.

Living with vestibular hypofunction can be disorienting and debilitating, especially since it can limit a person’s ability to perform daily activities, like walking in a straight line or driving a car. Thankfully, research shows that exercise can help ease major symptoms of vestibular hypofunction and restore the body’s sense of balance. Physical therapy can help a person incorporate these exercises into their routine.

How can PT help manage vestibular hypofunction symptoms?

The vestibular system works with the central nervous system and musculoskeletal system to detect self-movement and maintain balance. Even an infection in the inner ear can trigger symptoms of vertigo while simply turning the head. Dizziness can be particularly dangerous, significantly increasing a person’s risk of falling.

Physical therapy exercises can help lessen symptoms, especially if treatment is started early on. Physical therapists can treat a patient with vestibular hypofunction by: 

  1. Tailoring a treatment plan according to specific symptoms and medical history.
    The severity and frequency of vestibular hypofunction symptoms can depend on the severity of the damage in the inner ear. At an initial appointment, a physical therapist can examine a patient’s medical history, eye movement, balance, walking pattern and strength. Based on these factors, the physical therapist can develop a treatment plan that targets a patient’s specific concerns and symptoms. Doing so can help optimize results.
  2. Guiding patients through strength training exercises.
    Strength training exercises can encourage the body to remain balanced, even during moments of vertigo. Research shows that training the core and back specifically can help the body maintain balance. Physical therapists can use joint mobilization techniques that help strengthen the core, back, hips, and knees to help keep patients’ bodies aligned and balanced.
  3. Guiding patients in balance and gait exercises.
    Physical therapists can help increase a patient’s balance through exercises that help develop balance and gait. For example, gaze stabilization training can help keep a patient’s eyes focused during episodes of vertigo. They can also help patients perform exercises that train their body in sensing balance. Balance training may include walking in a straight line or lifting each leg up and down while standing.
  4. Bringing exercises to the comfort of patients’ own homes.
    Because vertigo episodes linked to vestibular hypofunction can be unpredictable, it may be difficult and sometimes unsafe for patients to leave their homes. Some physical therapists can come to patients so that they don’t have to travel to begin their treatment. Reducing this roadblock can increase patients’ access to treatment and help them manage their symptoms earlier. 
  5. Educating patients to achieve a faster recovery.
    Physical therapy for treatment for vestibular hypofunction doesn’t end in the clinic. Physical therapists can educate patients throughout their sessions so they can feel empowered to continue their exercises at home. With more time dedicated to strength and balance training, patients may recover faster.

Back in Motion can help you improve your balance

Are you experiencing dizziness, headaches and a lack of balance? Our team of specialists can help you manage vestibular hypofunction symptoms so that you can walk with confidence. Contact us today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

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