Have you ever turned over or sat up in bed and the whole world started spinning? You are not alone. This is typically caused by a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), also known as displaced crystals in your ear. Nearly 3 percent of people experience BPPV in their lifetime, and it can be very scary and debilitating.
Dizziness is often thought of as being off-balance or unsteady, but vertigo is specifically the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving.
With BPPV, the spinning usually comes on quickly, mostly with movement, and lasts a brief time. Spinning episodes typically occur when turning in bed, looking up or bending down, or moving your head quickly. Some people will notice it when they put their head back at the dentist or hairdresser. The good news is that nearly everyone responds to a quick treatment for vertigo caused by BPPV.
Physical therapists are trained to diagnose and treat BPPV, and in most cases, BPPV can be resolved in one session. Treatment involves a series of head positions that move the crystals back into their correct place.
You do not need a referral to see a physical therapist, and it is best to be seen as soon as possible. In addition to the spinning episodes that can be intense and unpleasant, the displaced crystals can cause imbalance that increases your fall risk.
There usually is no known reason for an episode of BPPV, but the incidence increases as you get older. This is because the crystals in our ears get more brittle and are more likely to move around. Other causes can be a head trauma, or an ear or sinus infection. Once you have BPPV, the likelihood that you will have it again increases. Unfortunately, you cannot prevent BPPV, but it is good to know what to do when it happens.
A physical therapist, especially one who specializes in vestibular (inner ear balance system) rehabilitation, can also assess for other reasons of dizziness or imbalance. Once serious problems are ruled out, many causes of dizziness can be improved with vestibular or balance exercises. Dizziness is a common occurrence, especially as we get older, but it is not something we should accept as a normal part of aging. So, whether you woke up spinning or have been feeling off-kilter for awhile, give your physical therapist a call.
Tiffany Salido is a doctor of physical therapy and owner of The Movement Joint, a therapeutic fitness studio offering safe, PT-led exercise classes individualized for people with joint and muscle pain, weakness, balance problems, fatigue, and mobility difficulties. Find out more at themovementjoint.com.