Physio can help when your inner ear sends you spinning

Vertigo, a kind of dizziness that has the sensation of moving, often described as ‘spinning’.

Does getting up from bending over make you feel like you just got off a ride at the IPE?When you roll over in bed, do you feel like you or the room is spinning? What you are feeling may be vertigo, a kind of dizziness that also has a component of the sensation of moving, often described as ‘spinning’.  But…why does this happen?

Your brain gets information of where your head is in space through the input from vision, muscles and joints, and the inner ear. If one of these systems gets affected, vertigo can occur. A common cause is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, or BPPV for short, a condition of the inner ear.

To understand what BPPV is, it’s helpful to know the anatomy. Inside each ear there are three tubes that are known as ‘semicircular canals’. They are oriented to give information about movements that occur about three different axes: pitch, yaw, and roll. To imagine these different motions, think of nodding your head ‘yes’, shaking your head ‘no’, and tilting your head to bring one ear toward the same shoulder. A nearby structure of the inner ear is called the ‘utricle’, which has calcium crystals inside. If these crystals dislodge from their normal location and end up in one of the semicircular canals, it affects the movement of fluid inside that tube, causing the sensation of vertigo with certain head movements.

The exact cause of BPPV is often unknown. Some possible explanations include: recent head trauma, recent infection, or prolonged bed rest, among others. Sometimes the occurrence is spontaneous, without a preceding incident.

BPPV can be diagnosed by a health professional by talking to you about what you’re experiencing, what aggravating activities are, how long symptoms last, and by performing a positional maneuver in the clinic.

While BPPV may resolve over time, seeking treatment can give you relief much quicker. This may consist of a health professional (such as a physiotherapist, or a doctor) performing a ‘repositioning’ technique, involving moving your head and body in different positions. This is done to encourage the crystals to move out of the semicircular canal and to be re-absorbed. Specific home exercises may also be prescribed.  BPPV responds well to these techniques, often requiring few treatments.

Dysfunction of the canals in the inner ear isn’t the only thing that can lead to dizziness or vertigo; medical conditions, head injuries, change in medications and neck injuries are some of the possible alternative causes. Because of this it is important to seek the care of a professional if you are experiencing symptoms.