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Vestibular therapy helps patients with dizziness, vertigo

Kari McQuaide, P.T.
Kari McQuaide, P.T.

LOGAN – Hocking Valley Community Hospital offers a unique kind of therapy to help those experiencing dizziness, balance problems and vertigo.

Vestibular therapy improves balance and reduces dizziness-related problems for patients who have been experiencing the above symptoms for three months or longer with no relief.

When the vestibular organs are damaged by disease or injury, the brain can no longer rely on them for accurate information about equilibrium and motion, often resulting in dizziness, vertigo, balance problems and other symptoms.

Kari McQuaide, P.T., provides vestibular therapy at Hocking Valley Community Hospital’s Outpatient Therapy Department. She has been a physical therapist for 23 years, specializing in vestibular rehab for the past 18 years. She has started vestibular rehab programs in four different facilities and attends continuing education regarding vestibular rehab on a regular basis. She will be attending an advanced training at the University of Pennsylvania in the spring.

“There are many issues that can cause dizziness, often making it difficult to determine the cause. Your local family physician is skilled in determining the cause based on different tests as well as referral to specialists such as neurologists and ENTs as needed. When your physician has ruled out any serious issues, they may refer you to vestibular rehab,” McQuaide said.

The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and brain. The dizziness associated with this system is often described as a spinning sensation that is provoked by movement. Movements of the head and body make the symptoms worse. Nystagmus, an involuntary motion of the eye, also is typically present. These motions often indicate which part of the vestibular system is involved and may help to choose appropriate treatment.

“Many of my patients have had damage to their central or peripheral vestibular system and will require three to six weeks of therapy doing activities or motions that routinely make them dizzy (like bending over and picking something off the floor or changing positions from sitting to standing) with the objective of improving their tolerance for the movement,” McQuaide said.

Therapy also can include eye-head coordination exercises because people with vestibular problems often rely on input from their eyes to maintain balance.

“I may have patients track things with their eyes, or keep their eyes in certain positions while moving their head,” McQuaide said. “We need to retrain the brain to become desensitized to the motions that are causing symptoms.”

Most treatment is done on a home program basis, coming to therapy one time per week. If significant balance issues exist, more frequent intervention may be required. Overall, people’s symptoms typically take two to three weeks to show improvement and compliance with home program is crucial to recovery. Issues such as neck and back pain, etc, may make treatment more difficult and may require special considerations.

While the majority of patients with vestibular issues tend to be older, McQuaide treats patients of all ages; a physician referral is required.

To make an appointment or for more information about vestibular therapy, contact Hocking Valley Community Hospital’s Outpatient Therapy Department at (740) 380-8284. Hours for the clinic are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Hocking Valley is a community non-profit hospital with an emergency department, urgent care and a wide variety of clinical, specialty and outpatient services. For more information, contact the Community Relations office at (740) 380-8336.