Vertigo is a sensation or feeling that the person or their environment is spinning. It can cause balance problems and often is a result of a problem in the inner ear. People who have vertigo may complain of feeling dizzy. Dizziness is also described as feeling lightheaded. Vertigo and lightheadedness often have different causes and different treatments, but they can occur together.

Vertigo affects people of all ages. Although it is very rare among children, it is common in adults over the age of 20. Vertigo and balance problems are more dangerous for people ages 65 and over. Older adults are at greater risk for fractures and major injuries from a fall caused by imbalance.

A physical therapist can help people manage vertigo and dizziness symptoms so they can get moving again. Physical therapists are movement experts who improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Based on their evaluation and your goals, your physical therapist will design a treatment plan specific to you. The exact treatments will depend on the cause of your vertigo. Your physical therapist’s main focus is to help you get moving again and manage the vertigo at the same time. Treatment may include specialized head and neck movements that your physical therapist can gently perform for you or teach you to do. It also will include exercises to help get rid of your symptoms. Conditions such as BPPV have very specific tests and treatments.

If you still have dizziness and balance problems after vertigo stops, your physical therapist can target those problems. They will develop a treatment plan and teach you strategies to help you cope with your specific symptoms.

For example:

  • If performing certain activities or chores at home cause you to become dizzy, your physical therapist will show you how to do them in a different way to help reduce dizziness.
  • If simple activities become difficult, or cause fatigue and more dizziness, your physical therapist will help you work through them. This training will help you get moving again and return to your home and work activities.

Physical therapy treatments for dizziness can take many forms. The type of exercise program that your physical therapist designs for you will depend on your unique problems, and might include:

  • Exercises to improve your balance.
  • Exercises to help the brain “correct” differences between your inner ears.
  • Exercises to improve your ability to focus your eyes and vision.
  • Exercises to increase tolerance to visually stimulating environments.

Your physical therapist also may prescribe exercises to improve your strength, flexibility, and heart health. The goal of these exercises is to improve your overall physical health and well-being.

If you experience vertigo, along with one or more of the following symptoms, call 911 at once:

  • Double vision.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • A change in alertness.
  • Arm or leg weakness.
  • Inability to walk.