Have you ever felt the room spinning around you? You may feel unbalanced, as if you are tilting to one side. It is a very uncomfortable feeling.

This can sometimes be a condition known as vertigo – a perception of your environment moving around you. It may also be accompanied by nausea, a ringing in the ears, or headache. It can last for a few minutes to several hours, or it can come and go over time.

What causes vertigo?

An inner ear problem is most often the cause of vertigo. Normally, the inner ear sends messages to your brain to help keep your body in balance. Those messages may not be correct if you have:

  • a build-up of tiny particles in the inner ear canal
  • an infection or inflammation around the nerves in the inner ear
  • Meniere’s disease
  • neurological conditions, such as migraines, brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, concussions, traumatic brain injury, or stroke

Certain medications can also cause symptoms of vertigo or dizziness. Changes in the position of your head can trigger vertigo: looking from side to side quickly while walking, or your head moving forward and backward rapidly while your body is still.

The condition is random, but the risk tends to increase with age. The signs of vertigo include:

  • feeling as if the room is spinning
  • feeling dizzy when rolling over while in bed or rotating head
  • dizzy when watching quickly moving objects

If you experience these symptoms of dizziness or vertigo, be sure to talk with your doctor as soon as possible.

Treating vertigo

Sometimes vertigo will improve on its own. When it does not, a type of physical therapy, called vestibular therapy, can be helpful.

There is a whole system in your body that sends signals to your brain about your head and body. It provides information about your movements and location in space. That system, which includes the inner ear, is known as the vestibular system.

Vestibular therapy is targeted to strengthen the vestibular system. A physical therapist who specializes in this type of therapy knows maneuvers and exercises for stabilizing your gaze and vestibular system. A therapist can teach you different techniques to use when you encounter other episodes of vertigo and how to avoid additional triggers for it. One such maneuver is known as an Epley, and involves movements directed by a physical therapist to help patients with vertigo reposition crystals in the inner ear.

For more information on our Outpatient Therapy for Inner Ear Disorders services and all our rehabilitation services, visit our website.  

Lifespan Rehabilitation Services »

Heather Geraghty, MSPT

Heather Geraghty is a physical therapist with the Vanderbilt Rehabilitation Center at Newport Hospital. She specializes in vestibular therapy.