Vestibular FAQ: The Basics - Balance Chicago Physical Therapy

Vestibular FAQ: The Basics

Did you know your vestibular system controls your balance?

What is the Vestibular System?

The vestibular system consists of the inner ear, the vestibular nerve, and a special part of your brain called the vestibular nuclei. The inner ear is where the sensory components of the system are housed. These are called semicircular canals and otoliths. These are what you use to sense head movements. The semicircular canals sense rotational head movement and the otoliths sense tilting movements and translation (such as walking). 

These sensory organs send signals to the brain via the vestibular nerve. The vestibular nerve acts like an electric cord, carrying electrical information from one place to another. That electric cord “plugs into” the brain at an area called the vestibular nuclei. This part of the brain is very important because it takes in information from not only our inner ear but also information from our neck, eyes, and body. This information is combined together to give our brain an idea of where our head and body are in space. This is the main purpose of our vestibular system. It regulates balance and equilibrium to keep us upright and steady.

When there are problems in our vestibular system, people can develop dizziness, motion sickness, and imbalance. Problems can occur at the level of the inner ear, the vestibular nerve, or the brain. This is why there are many different forms of dizziness and consequently different treatments.

Are There Different Types of Dizziness?

There are many different types of dizziness, with various causes. Dizziness is an umbrella term that is used to encompass a lot of other descriptions of how people feel. Sometimes dizziness feels like spinning, sometimes it feels like being on a boat, sometimes it feels like your head is floating, and other times it just feels like something is off. The cause of dizziness can range from crystal displacement to nerve damage to migraines. Each of these causes will have a dramatically different treatment. This is why it is important to seek help from a medical professional who specializes in dizziness in order to be properly diagnosed and treated.

Who Can Treat Dizziness?

When you are dizzy it can be tough to figure out who to go to for help. There are many different medical specialities that are involved in the treatment of dizziness. A good place to start is either at your primary care provider’s office or an ENT. ENTs specialize in the ear, nose, and throat so they are able to assess for infections, hearing loss, and other diseases of the ear. Neurologists can also be helpful in the diagnosis of dizziness but it is important to find one that regularly deals with patients who are dizzy. They can provide further testing to rule out any serious medical conditions and help pinpoint the potential cause of dizziness.

ENTs and Neurologists will often refer patients to physical therapy for treatment of their dizziness. It is important to find a physical therapy clinic or clinician that specializes in vestibular conditions because not all physical therapists have sufficient knowledge of the vestibular system. Additionally, there are a couple other professions that might be helpful in the treatment of dizziness such as acupuncturist, chiropractors, and psychologists.

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