At one time or another, all of us have experienced the sensation of dizziness or vertigo. Who hasn’t as a child spun themselves around and around until you can’t stand up? Perhaps you have felt that strange sensation during an IMAX movie that you were actually flying when in reality you knew you were in a chair on the ground.
This kind of dizziness is easily explained. Unfortunately, many people suffer from dizziness or vertigo that can be sudden and not explained by a movie or ride at the fair. This kind of dizziness is not normal and can have many different causes. One of the most common disorders of vertigo and dizziness is BPPV. So what exactly is BPPV?
BPPV stands for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo and that’s a mouthful! Let’s break it down a little further:
Benign: not malignant
Paroxysmal: sudden onset
Positional: affected by position
Vertigo: the false sense of movement
Although it sounds scary and it certainly is not fun to have, it is benign, which really means non-life threatening. It also is one of the easiest forms of dizziness to treat.
BPPV happens when tiny crystals in your inner ear move out of position. Normally these crystals are contained in a small sack called the utricle. However if the crystals become displaced, they can move into special canals in the ears called the semicircular canals. When this happens, the crystal’s movement in the canals causes dizziness. A symptom of BPPV usually includes dizziness which starts suddenly and is very aggravated by movements of the head. This includes things like looking up, rolling over in bed or bending over. The dizziness comes and goes with movement, but overall it may last for days.
A physical therapist can help by first evaluating you to find out which ear is being affected and into which canal the crystals have been displaced. A physical therapist trained to treat BPPV will be able to help get the crystals back into the correct place by moving the head through a series of special positions. They are designed to bring the crystals around the canal and back into the place they should be, the utricle. This is called the Epley maneuver, and it usually takes one to three visits for the symptoms to resolve.
Vertigo and dizziness are common problems but trained therapists can often treat them successfully. Because vertigo can be a very complex disorder, I often recommend patients seek evaluation from their physicians as well. When therapists and physicians team together, it’s helpful in treating the patient as a whole.
If you have dizziness or know someone who is affected by vertigo, ask your physician how physical therapy can help you!