Friday, April 17, 2009


Vertigo is the sensation of dizziness or instability while the body is actually motionless. Vertigo can be a symptom of inner ear problems, migraines, hypotensive disorders, or psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorder. Dizziness can be a symptom of Meniere’s disease which also affects hearing (other symptoms include tinnitus or noticeable hearing loss). One cause, besides inner ear problems, of this dizziness is the abnormal uptake of serotonin in the hippocampus (1) and treatment with an SSRI can sometimes alleviate the symptoms. Benzodiazepines and SNRI’s are other pharmacological treatments.

Vestibular exercises are another treatment. These exercises work by teaching the brain to use new external clues in order to maintain balance. The balance exercises below were stolen directly from here. I would add to this list by challenging yourself to different balance exercises with your eyes closed. As well, another balance exercise would be to stand on one leg. Variations on this include standing on your toes on the one leg, holding the other leg out/up, and doing either or both of these techniques with your eyes closed. Another exercise is to turn a 2 x 4 on its side and use it as a balance beam for walking or incorporating any of the above exercises.

Other balance exercises:

Thumb-tracking: Hold your thumb out 1 to 2 feet in front of your face. As you look at your thumb, turn your head from right to left, then left to right, then up and down. Increase speed gradually. Do the exercise for 90 seconds. Repeat the exercise four times a day.

Target-change: Pick two objects (targets) that you have to turn your head from left to right to look at. Look at one object, blink your eyes, and then turn your head quickly to look at the other object. Go back and forth quickly between the objects. Repeat several times per session, at least two sessions per day.

Lying-to-standing: Move from a lying-down position on a sofa or bed to a standing position as quickly as possible without falling. Get up toward both right and left sides quickly. Do the exercise five times on each side per session, at least two sessions per day.

Tightrope: Walk heel to toe as if you are walking on a tightrope or a line. Do the exercise in a hallway with available support, such as a wall or railing. For 30 minutes per day, practice walking 10 steps at a time without using a support.

Walking turns: Walk toward an eye-level target on a wall (such as a picture). As you get near the wall, turn your body to one side but keep your eyes and head locked on the target. When your body cannot move any farther, close your eyes and quickly turn your head to face forward. Repeat the exercise five times for each side, turning your eyes and head to the right and left sides. Slowly increase your speed for at least 30 minutes per day.

Ball toss: While standing or sitting, toss a tennis ball at least 3 feet above your head and catch it. Practice for five to 10 minutes per day. When you can do the exercise easily, try it while walking.

References: 1, 2

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