Dizziness or Vertigo? Physical Therapy Can Help!

posted by Craig Cantrall on Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Feeling unsteady on your feet, or sometimes even when seated? Or, do you have a spinning sensation?

The cause is likely dizziness or vertigo. There are many different types and causes of dizziness or vertigo, and while these two terms are not necessarily interchangeable, they can be related. 

Dizziness is a feeling of unsteadiness or a feeling of falling or needing to hold onto something to keep your balance.  Vertigo is more of a spinning sensation in which it feels like either you are spinning or the room is spinning.  Both can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. 

There are many causes of dizziness or disequilibrium and vertigo, and in this article, I am going to discuss one specific type of vertigo, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or BPPV. This is a common cause of vertigo that can be treated by a knowledgeable practitioner.  BPPV has a number of hallmark symptoms, including:

  • Vertigo or severe spinning sensation is caused by specific and reproducible movements. For example, many people have the symptoms when they sit up in bed or when they lie down, or both. People may also have the symptoms when rolling over in bed and many people have symptoms when they look up.  With BPPV the symptoms are reproduced each time a certain motion is performed, such as every time I roll to my right side, or every time I look up. 
  • Another hallmark of BPPV is that the symptoms are moderate to severe, but are short (less than 60 seconds) if the person stops moving.  If the symptoms last for many minutes, or hours then it is generally not BPPV.
  • A third hallmark of BPPV is that a person will have nystagmus in the eyes when they are having the vertigo.  Nystagmus is a rapid involuntary or reflexive beating type movement of the eye. With BPPV the nystagmus will coincide with the vertigo and will go away as the vertigo stops.  The person having the vertigo with nystagmus may notice blurred vision because of the beating in the eyes.

If these classic symptoms are present, reproducible vertigo with certain motions, severe but short-lasting symptoms and nystagmus, there is a likelihood that a person has BPPV.  The good news is BPPV can be treated in physical therapy and generally takes just a few sessions to treat, often resolving in one or two sessions. 

There are many other causes for dizziness and vertigo. A physical therapist can evaluate your dizziness or vertigo and help to determine if you have BPPV or a different cause and will develop an appropriate individual plan of treatment for you.

To schedule an appointment with a physical therapist from Spencer Hospital Rehabilitation Services, please call (712) 264-6189.

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About The Author

Craig Cantrall

Craig Cantrall is a physical therapist at Spencer Hospital who also provides services at our outreach clinics, Hartley Family Care and Rehab @ The Clinic in the Spencer Medical Arts Building.