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What is Vertigo? And How Can Physical Therapy Help?

What is Vertigo?

Vertigo is the sensation of feeling dizzy or off-balance, even when standing still. Vertigo is extremely common in the US, being most common in age groups over 65 years old.

Vertigo is a condition caused by an underlying medical issue or environmental factor, not a diagnosis itself. It is important to seek medical attention if you continue to have persistent episodes of vertigo as the underlying cause of your vertigo may require treatment.

Symptoms of Vertigo

Vertigo makes affected patients feel like they are spinning, or their environment is spinning around them. As noted above, vertigo is itself a symptom, but can also lead to or occur with other symptoms, including:

  • Feeling of spinning, tilting, or swaying
  • Loss of balance
  • Motion sickness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

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Causes of Vertigo

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

BPPV is one of the most common causes of vertigo. BPPV is a condition that causes brief episodes of vertigo, usually set off by changes in the position of your head (i.e., turning the head too quickly, snapping the neck, etc.).

This condition is generally bothersome, but not seriously dangerous, unless it increases the risk of falling – most commonly a problem in those over age 65.

Vestibular Neuritis

Vestibular neuritis is a condition that affects the inner ear and commonly causes vertigo. This is most likely caused by a viral infection in the inner ear, and the most severe symptoms generally only lost for a few days.

Meniere’s Disease

Meniere’s disease is a progressive condition that affects the inner ear, often causing vertigo and issues with balance. There are other symptoms that often occur with balance issues, such as hearing loss, feelings of fullness in the ear, and ringing in the ear. Balance issues become more dangerous with age, as falling can be severely damaging or even fatal for seniors.


Episodes of vertigo can often be associated with migraines. Vertigo may also be caused by vestibular migraines, which don’t always cause a headache but will leave patients with symptoms of vertigo. These migraines can also cause nausea, motion sensitivity, feelings of disorientation, and sensitivity to sound, among other symptoms.


While vertigo can be easily self-diagnosed, your physical therapist will need to perform an assessment to determine the underlying cause(s). They will perform a physical examination and take the patient’s medical history to help make their diagnosis.


Depending on the underlying cause of the vertigo, treatment may vary. The most common way that physical therapy is used to treat vertigo is vestibular rehabilitation, or vestibular therapy.

This form of physical therapy can help patients who experience recurring episodes of vertigo by strengthening the vestibular system, which is responsible for sending signals to your brain related to body movements. By training other senses to compensate for vertigo, vestibular therapy can help reduce the severity of symptoms for many patients.

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