What is the vestibular system?
The vestibular system is part of the inner ear and brain, which helps the body to control balance and eye movements. Problems can arise with damage or disease to any of the parts involved in the system, causing vestibular symptoms. Peripheral vestibular disorders result from direct impact to structures within the inner ear, while central vestibular disorders are problems occurring within the central nervous system, including the brain and/or brainstem.
Common symptoms of vestibular disorders*:
- Vertigo: Perceived movement/spinning of self or surroundings.
- Dizziness: Lightheadedness, unsteadiness, or feeling faint.
- Disequilibrium: Loss of balance, unsteadiness, clumsiness that can be occur with spatial disorientation (inability to determine body position or motion in space).
- Vision disturbances: Difficulty tracking objects, difficulty in busy environments, sensitivity to certain lights, difficulty in dark environments.
- Hearing changes: Hearing loss or fluctuating hearing, tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, etc. noise in ear), noise sensitivity, sensation of “fullness” in the ears.
- Cognitive: Difficulty concentrating, confusion and disorientation; easily mentally and/or physically fatigued; forgetfulness.
- Psychological: Decreased confidence, self-reliance, anxiety, and depression.
- Nausea or vomiting
- Motion sickness or “sea sickness”
- Slurred speech
- Sensitivity to pressure or temperature changes
- Sensitivity to dietary changes
*Not all symptoms are present in every case, and other symptoms may also be present with certain conditions that are not listed.
The most common symptoms people experience are dizziness and vertigo, which can result from many causes. The vestibular system is not the only source for these symptoms. Some non-vestibular causes include cardiovascular, neurological, metabolic (dietary or from medication(s)), visual, psychological and the aging process. It could be the result of a combination of the above, with or without a vestibular component.
If you are experiencing dizziness, vertigo, or any of the symptoms listed above, discuss them with your Physician or Physical Therapist. These symptoms impact your quality of life and there are some that can be improved with medication and/or physical therapy. Physical therapy can be helpful by aiding in the diagnosis and improving symptoms by strengthening what remains within the vestibular system and/ or developing strategies to reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Medical Diagnoses which may be related to dizziness from Vestibular system:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV): Most common
- Cervicogenic dizziness
- Enlarged vestibular aqueduct
- Labyrinthitis & Vestibular neuritis
- Mal de debarquement (“Sea Sickness”)
- Meniere’s Disease
- Middle ear pressure changes
- Migraine associated vertigo (MAV)
- Otitis media
- Perilymph fistula
- Superior semicircular canal dehiscence
- Secondary endolymph hydrops
- Vascular compression of vestibular nerve
What is balance?
Balance is the ability to maintain the center of the body’s mass over the base of support to maintain upright posture without falling. There are three systems that provide information to the brain: vision, proprioception (touch, muscle, and joint positioning), and the vestibular system (motion, equilibrium, spatial orientation). This information is sent to the brainstem and brain to be processed, resulting in adjustments in the eyes and muscles in order to maintain upright, stable posture. Therefore, there are multiple influences that can contribute to a decline in balance or increased risk of falling. It is important to let your health care provider know if you have fallen, if you feel unstable, or noticed a decline in your balance.
Physical Therapy Can Help:
You may not know why your balance has declined, but physical therapy can assist with diagnosing the source of the problem, and helping to regain balance, stability, and confidence during daily activities. Whether your source of decreased balance is from visual defects, problems with proprioception, or the vestibular system, your balance can improve through various techniques provided by a Physical Therapist. Physical therapy can assist by treating musculoskeletal, vestibular, or proprioception problems and by helping to develop strategies to improve balance, safety, and stability. Physical therapy treatment which improves balance typically greatly improves overall quality of life!
Dr. Kelsey Quinton, PT, DPT can assist in your rehabilitation for the vestibular system. Please contact our clinic today at (804) 270-7754 to set up an appointment.