Have you ever gotten out of bed in the morning only to find the room spinning, making you wonder what in the world is going on? This feeling is likely caused by one of two things: vertigo or dizziness. Dizziness typically consists of nonspecific symptoms, like light-headedness or a feeling of swimming or floating. Vertigo, on the other hand, is a feeling of spinning that is associated with any turning motion of the head. These conditions have different causes, but both can be treated by a professional such as a physical therapist.

The vestibular system is a sensory system that detects movement to allow us to stay in an upright position and prevent us from falling. An issue in this system is usually what causes vertigo. Unfortunately, nearly 1,000,000 people per year visit the emergency room because of a fall, and this statistic tends to increase with age. In fact, one-third of people 65 and older have fallen at least one time each year.

The way we maintain balance is through vision, the somatosensory system (how we feel touch, heat, and pain), and the vestibular system. We all recognize the role of the eyes in balance control. We use visual cues to maintain upright postures and it obviously becomes more difficult to maneuver safely in complete darkness. The somatosensory system, however, allows us to know what position our bodies are in without looking at them. For example, you can close your eyes and bend your elbow to 90 degrees, and you will still be able to sense that your elbow is bent, without having to open your eyes and check. The vestibular system provides information that is also sensitive to body position but more importantly lets us know the speed at which our bodies are moving. This helps us use the muscular system to protect us from falling.

Physical therapists have received training to use techniques that correct the condition of the vestibular system in order to improve its overall efficiency and control. Exercises to improve balance and to decrease the feeling of spinning will also increase function and safety. The physical therapists at Foothills Sports Medicine are well equipped and have gained the experience to help identify and resolve your concerns. If you have problems with dizziness and/or balance and have not seen a professional, or have not been getting the results that you have hoped for, please feel free to call us to schedule an evaluation of your condition.

Dan Naish, PT, has over 30 years of experience in the outpatient orthopedic setting, was the co-founder of Metro Physical Therapy and now co-owns our Foothills Metro Center location. He is here today to share what he knows about dizziness and vertigo, how it might affect you, and how physical therapy could help.