Vertigo, by definition, is a sensation of spinning and loss of balance. Vestibular physical therapy can be used to treat vertigo, as well as other symptoms that may be associated with inner ear issues. People may describe their symptoms as a spinning sensation, dizziness, or unsteadiness. All of these symptoms could be linked to a vestibular diagnosis.

Sudden or gradual onset of dizziness or a spinning sensation can be caused by either your central nervous system or your inner ear. A physician can often rule out central nervous system causes with imaging. If symptoms are caused by the inner ear, they may recommend you see a physical therapist. Causes of symptoms related to the inner ear include positional vertigo, inflammation of structures of the inner ear, or imbalance of the inner ear’s fluid system. There can be other causes as well that are rarer and may involve more extensive testing. The most common cause is called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, or BPPV. This occurs from an abnormal movement of the crystals, or otoconia, within the canals of the inner ear. A sudden movement like turning your head or rolling in bed can cause those crystals to migrate in your ear canals, causing the dizziness we know as vertigo.

Physical therapy is an effective treatment for vertigo and inner ear dysfunction. If someone Is experiencing BPPV, there are positional maneuvers that can be utilized to move those crystals out of the canals of the inner ear, which often will mitigate or eliminate dizziness. If symptoms are caused by something other than BPPV, there are other interventions a physical therapist can use to help as well. These include what are referred to as vestibular habituation and adaptation exercises. These could be referred to as the “strengthening” exercises for the vestibular system.

Vestibular dysfunction and dizziness can be very debilitating conditions and can cause a multitude of other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and fear of falling. The neat thing about the treatment of BPPV by a physical therapist is that it is highly effective and can be completely cured in one or two visits.

If you have experienced vertigo or symptoms due to inner ear imbalances, speak to a trusted physical therapist to develop a course of action to treat your symptoms and get back to living life.


Ashlee Harriman PT, DPT