Are you dizzy or is it vertigo?
We use the term dizziness to describe a number of sensations we feel, from lightheadedness to feeling off balance, to spinning, tilting and swaying. But not all episodes of dizziness are created equal.
What is true vertigo?
Dizziness is associated with feeling light-headed or losing your balance.
If you feel like the room is spinning, tilting, rocking, swaying or you feel like you’re falling, you have vertigo or what is known as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV).
True vertigo or BPPV usually starts in middle age onwards and has no cause but, in my experience can be related to severe jolts like car accidents or falls.
What causes BPPV?
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo is a type of balance disorder that occurs when calcium crystals in our inner ear break off and float to the wrong part of the balance canals (called semi-circular canals). The canals have cilia (hairs) along the walls that inform the brain about position, balance and movement (much like a gyroscope for the physics buffs amongst us).
When these crystals lodge in the wrong part of these canals they stimulate the cilia, producing dizziness with nausea, odd eye movements – and generally feeling awful!
Read more: What is vertigo?
How can physio help with vertigo?
Usually things like lying on a certain side, or getting up or lying down will provoke the dizziness. We can treat the problem by performing special re-positioning movements of the head that coerce the crystals back to their rightful place in our balance canals.
Stemetil medication can assist in reducing nausea, vomiting and dizziness but generally physio treatment is effective and gives good relief – usually only two or three sessions are required to halt symptoms.
Dizziness caused by a sore neck
Another cause of dizziness – although less common - is spinal related dizziness. When the upper facet joints of the neck (cervical spine) get sore or tight, they can produce dizziness along with soreness or even headache.
Spinal-related dizziness is harder to prove and needs a skilled clinician to diagnose, but if present, therapy aimed at the offending joints will reduce or eliminate the dizziness.
From my experience spinal-related dizziness is a lot slower to resolve than Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV).
Other causes of dizziness
Low blood pressure
Those who suffer from low blood pressure often describe dizziness when getting up from a bed, car or chair. This is a medical problem. Those with high BP can experience dizziness when things are not controlled and this is an urgent medical problem that shouldn’t be ignored.
Meniere’s Disease is a nasty form of vertigo. It is a medical problem caused by excessive fluid build- up in the inner ear (in one or both ears). Treatment includes diet modification, salt reduction and other factors which are not directly in the province of physiotherapy.
I think I have vertigo - what do I do?
Steve Rodda, Director and Physiotherapist, Back In Motion Woodville
Steve is the owner principal of Back In Motion Woodville. He has worked as a physio for more than 30 years in the country and in the western suburbs of Adelaide, completing a Masters of Manipulative Therapy in 2001. He has taught at undergraduate level clinical placements and tutored in Electrotherapy at the UniSA. Steve has a long history of involvement with sporting teams, especially soccer with SASI and also enjoys working with the various spinal conditions seen in general physio practices.