Positional Vertigo: When the human gyroscope is not working

By Cheung Teav, P.T. –

VertigoBefore you read further there is one thing to always remember, if you have sudden onset of severe dizziness, stop what you are doing and call 911. Sudden severe dizziness may be a sign of a stroke and as we all know time is of the essence and immediate treatment is vital. The faster you get treated by professionals the better the outcome will be.

On the other hand, what if you have regular or irregular dizziness? Is there anything you can do to prevent the onset of your dizzy spells? You may be surprised by the answer… Most mild vertigo, either regular or irregular, can be CURED with as few as one to three medical treatments lasting less than fifteen minutes each.

There is a condition called “Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, otherwise known as BPPV ” Have you ever been lying in bed and experienced the sensation of a room spinning, or when you stand up do you have to steady yourself by holding on to something until the room stops moving. These are symptoms of positional vertigo. It is not a lifelong condition and you will be relieved to know that you do not have to “just live with it.” As a matter of fact, positional vertigo is a very curable condition that can be treated without medication or elaborate therapy.

Considering that a fall can be devastating for our older population and that positional vertigo is a large contributor to falls, it is important to understand what positional vertigo is and how it can be treated.

First, let me explain this condition with a simple analogy.. In your ear imagine three thick hula-hoops or tubes. One is vertical, one is horizontal and one is diagonal. They all exist in the same space like the rings of a gyroscope. Inside these tubes there is; fluid, cilia (little hairs) and crystals made up of calcium carbonate. When you move your head from side to side or up and down, the crystals move due to gravity and the crystals brush up against the cilia or hairs. The cilia, then send signals to your brain to let your brain know what orientation you are in; standing, lying down, leaning forward or back, etc. When you suffer from mild vertigo or dizziness the crystals are stuck in one spot of your ear and are over stimulating the cilia in that region thus your brain thinks you are in one position when in fact you are in another. Your eyes try to compensate for this discrepancy and that is why the room seems like it is spinning.

Why do these crystals get stuck? The crystals can become lodged in one place due to an infection, swelling of the ear, trauma to the ear or head, or even just sleeping wrong. So, now that you know what positional vertigo is, what can be done about it? We are one of only a very few practices in the area that treat positional vertigo. At Pinnacle Physical Therapy we first perform simple tests to identify where the crystals are lodged. We lay you on your back and lower your head off the edge of the table, then we orient your head in different positions and watch your eyes for reaction. During this exercise, we will also record your feedback as you experience different sensations such as “the room is spinning to the left or the right etc.” Once we know where the crystals are lodged there are simple adjustments we do by positioning your head in another orientation and gently shake your head to allow the crystals to dislodge and float again. “It is a MIRACLE!!” This joy-filled phrase is often heard following a positional vertigo treatment. Too many people walk around with positional vertigo, when in fact there is simply no reason for them to suffer the unpleasant sensations it causes. If you or someone you know experience regular or irregular dizziness, call Cheung Teav, Physical Therapist with Pinnacle Physical Therapy, don’t let positional vertigo make you feel as if you are spinning out of control.


When you need to properly heal, get physical therapy at Pinnacle Medical Group’s Therapy and Wellness Center. Our center specializes in caring, comprehensive physical therapy, and rehabilitation services for patients with medical disorders. Our team of credentialed physical therapists and physical therapist assistants evaluate and treat various diagnoses to improve and enhance function. Their advanced training ensures proper evaluation and quality of treatment customized to each patient’s specific needs.

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