Have you ever been dizzy? Odds are you have at some point in your life. But what does the word “dizzy” truly entail? And what causes dizziness?

For most people, the sensation of dizziness is due to dysfunction of the vestibular system, a tiny, sensory organ located in the inner ear (see image below). It is responsible for telling your brain how your head and body are moving, for keeping you balanced and upright, and for coordinating complex eye movements. Normally, this system works smoothly, quickly, and without conscious thought. But when something goes awry in the vestibular system, there can be major consequences.

                                                                                                (Hain et al., 2011)

It is estimated that over 90% of humans will experience vestibular dysfunction at some point in their life.

The prevalence of vestibular dysfunction in adults over the age of 40 in the United States is 35.4%, representing a staggering 69 million Americans (Allen et al., 2016). Vestibular dysfunction and dizziness are often difficult for patients to describe. The following are examples of common symptoms:

  • Lightheadedness- generally feeling “off”, having an “aura”, or feeling like your head is swimming through the clouds
  • Oscillopsia- blurring vision with head movement
  • Disequilibrium- feeling off balance, unsteady on your feet
  • Vertigo- illusion of movement most often described as spinning sensation of self or environment
  • Motion sickness- difficulty in visually stimulating environments, often associated with nausea

The bad news is that these symptoms can be severely debilitating, often rendering people unable to work, unable leave bed, and at increased risk of falling. The good news is that all of these symptoms of dizziness are treatable with specialized physical therapy called “Vestibular Rehabilitation”. Similar to training your muscles to better perform a movement, we can train your vestibular system to reduce and often eliminate dizzy symptoms. Finding a therapist trained in Vestibular Rehabilitation is paramount to correcting these symptoms. Here is a map of certified vestibular providers in the United States. Treating these vestibular impairments allows patients to get back to their everyday lives and back to moving as they want!


Author: Cam Jadali PT, DPT, NCS