Vestibular training, therapy, and rehabilitation are often referred to as simply balance training. The vestibular system controls balance and spacial awareness—located in the inner ear. When the vestibular is damaged by injury or disease, a person can experience dizziness, vertigo, lightheadedness, confusion, disorientation, and the feeling like he or she is falling (or might fall at any moment). Typically, the symptoms will go away after a few weeks of normal movement. If they don’t go away on their own, a person can benefit from vestibular rehabilitation.
A physical therapist (PT) or an occupational therapist (OT) will perform an in-depth examination to evaluate coordination, posture, gait, balance, along with getting an accurate picture of symptoms and what the patient is doing to compensate for them. After the evaluation, the therapist will design a patient-specific plan of care. It should include head, eye, and body exercises to ease symptoms. The patient will perform the exercises in the office with the therapist as well as at home as part of a home exercise program. When the exercises are performed, they retrain the brain to pick up on vestibular cues and relate them back to proprioception (muscle control) and vision.
It’s common for a patient to experience fatigue, tension, and headaches while performing the exercises. This is because the body and brain are working together to adjust to a new way of moving. If the exercise plan is performed consistently, and the patient is able to work through the negative symptoms, it may be enough to cure the vestibular dysfunction completely.