Feeling Dizzy? How Physical Therapy can Help Solve Your Balance Problems

September 08, 2017

Do you ever feel like the room is spinning, even though you’re sitting still or simply moving your head? Do you have difficulty keeping your balance when you walk on different surfaces? Do you experience nausea, migraine headaches or ringing in the ears along with those symptoms? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a good candidate for testing or treatment at Shore’s Balance Center, located at the new Center for Outpatient Rehabilitation in Somers Point.

According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 90 million Americans suffer from dizziness at some point in their lives. Dizziness and vertigo are so common, in fact, that they are the second most frequent complaints reported in physicians’ offices.

Chronic dizziness or vertigo can be caused by a wide range of issues. You can take the first steps toward relief, however, by reporting your symptoms to your doctor and by scheduling an appointment with Shore’s Balance Center. Depending on the results of your balance test, Shore’s physical therapists trained in vestibular rehabilitation therapy, or VRT, can work with you to resolve your balance problems and help you stay steadier on your feet.

How Our Bodies Maintain Balance
Three systems work together to control our balance: our vestibular system, which is made up of a complex maze-like structure in the inner ear; eyes; and the musculoskeletal system. Sensory receptors in these areas send messages to the brain, which then tell your body how to move accordingly. For example, when you step from a hard surface like the boardwalk to a softer surface, like sand, your eyes, feet and ankles tell the brain how the surface has changed and the brain tells your feet and ankles to move differently to accommodate the change.

When problems arise in any of these three systems, dizziness or vertigo can occur, and more importantly, falls can result. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death in people age 65 or older, so it is important to seek help if you are having balance problems. Shore’s Balance Center uses a complex series of tests to determine the source of your problems and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

How Our Center can Help
We checked in with Jennifer Pesce, PT, DPT, director of rehabilitation at the Shore Center for Outpatient Rehabilitation, where our Balance Center is located, to find out some of the most common issues seen in our center and how physical therapy can help:

  1. Inner Ear Crystals: The most common cause of dizziness or vertigo results from crystals in your vestibular apparatus located in the inner ear. The apparatus includes fluid and sensory hairs that detect the fluid’s motion and send signals to the brain about where the body is in space. If crystals are stuck on the sensory hairs, they give a false signal to the brain, which tries to accommodate a motion that isn’t really happening. Pesce says we all have these crystals in our inner ear, but problems arise when they stick to the hairs. “Although there are no known reasons why these crystals stick, there are clues to why it happens. Sometimes it occurs at the onset of congestion caused by a cold or allergies, or after a plane ride. We have even treated a child who developed dizziness after an especially bumpy ride on the school bus,” Pesce says. Treatment: To resolve the problem, Shore’s physical therapists can perform a maneuver that dislodges the crystals and sends them to a part of the inner ear where they can dissolve. “When there is rapid onset of dizziness, inner ear crystals are often the cause. We can typically resolve the issue in just one or two treatments when it’s caught early enough.”
  2. Oculomotor Problems: Another source of balance problems can originate in the oculomotor system, which includes the eyes, eye muscles and the brain. If the eyes are not working smoothly or as fast as they should, then your eyes are sending false signals to the brain.  This could result from a concussion, stroke or even just normal aging. Treatment: If the oculomotor system is disrupted and the changes cannot be corrected within the oculomotor system, physical therapists will teach you how to adapt to your new normal. “We may have you stand on different surfaces while doing eye exercises so you can adapt to the eye changes,” Pesce says. “We have a computerized system that determines the level of your oculomotor dysfunction, and that same system has exercises and activities that challenge both your eyes and your body at the same time. Afterward, we retest you to see how much you’ve improved.”
  3. Musculoskeletal Problems: Your feet, ankles, legs and spine all have sensory receptors that tell the brain what type of surface you’re standing on and where your feet are in relation to your body. One common example of a disruption in this system is foot neuropathy, where nerves have been damaged resulting in loss of sensation in the foot. The signals are not getting from your foot to the balance center in your brain, which can cause you to feel dizzy and lose your balance. Treatment: Depending on the source of the problem, therapists may have you combine standing exercises with eye exercises. “We may put you on a platform connected to our computer system, and have you move your body through a maze on the screen in front of you. Or, the test could have you alter your body to keep a stylus inside a moving object. If there was a problem with your strength, we would address those with more traditional physical therapy exercises. Another technique is to have you stand on different types of surfaces, like foam, ramps, carpet and tile to help train your body how to respond on each surface,” Pesce says. 

September 18 to 24 is Balance Awareness Week, and in honor of this Shore is offering free balance assessments Tuesday, Sept. 19 at 11 a.m. at the Shore Center for Outpatient Rehabilitation, located at 710 Centre Street, Somers Point, NJ. Please RSVP by calling 609-653-3512. 

A balance assessment will help expedite your care by pinpointing your unique condition so that our team can develop the most effective therapy plan. Shore’s Center for Outpatient Rehabilitation is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday appointments are also available. To schedule an appointment for balance testing and therapy, call 609-653-3512. For more information, please visit www.shoremedicalcenter.org/departments/rehab/balance_care.