New Waupun Memorial Hospital program helps with dizziness, balance

Shelly Haberman
Barb Schmitt

Dizziness is more common than most people think. In fact, it’s the second most common complaint people bring to their health care providers (lower back pain is first).

It is estimated that as many as 40 percent of all adults experience dizziness severe enough to warrant reporting it to their physicians. Fortunately, most causes of dizziness are detectable and treatable, especially with today’s computerized diagnostics, sophisticated medicines and advanced surgical techniques.

A new program at Waupun Memorial Hospital is providing an alternative, multi-disciplinary treatment to people who are experiencing dizziness and balance difficulties. Vestibular rehabilitation is being offered through the hospital’s Sports & Spine Center, and supported by Barb Schmitt, PT, DPT, lead therapist, who recently completed a vestibular rehabilitation course in Atlanta, Georgia.

“A person’s ability to maintain their balance depends on information that their brain receives from at least three different sources - your eyes, the muscles and joints of your body, and your inner ears,” says Schmitt. “All three of these sources send information through the nerves to your brain.”

These three systems work together to maintain normal equilibrium. But when there is a conflict between them, the brain is tricked in a feeling of movement. “For example, when you are sitting in front of a moving train, you can get the feeling of motion and even apply the car’s brakes,” according to Schmitt.

“Vestibular therapy retrains the brain to adapt to error messages from the inner ear by teaching the eyes ways to compensate for false motion,” Schmitt explains. “It also retrains the brain to depend more on the systems that are normal and trust that system’s information over the faulty one.”

Waupun Memorial Hospital professionals offer four types of vestibular therapy. The first is self-directed therapy for patients who do not require supervision during exercises and are not experiencing severe symptoms. A written exercise program is provided for completion at home.

Vestibular rehabilitation is used with patients who are experiencing acute symptoms and require the supervision of a physical therapist. Therapy may include fall prevention and balance retraining.

Patients who have a loss of balance or feel unsteady can use balance retraining. Therapy emphasizes practical solutions to common issues like getting around in the dark, walking on uneven surfaces, and negotiating steps and curbs. Fall prevention, movement coordination and returning to previous life activities are key goals.

Repositioning/desensitization help patients with positional vertigo. Symptoms of positional vertigo are repeated, brief periods of vertigo with movement, that is, of a spinning sensation upon changes in the position of the head. This therapy involves positioning maneuvers of the body to reset particles in the inner ear.

Before therapy begins, a health care provider will screen the patient. The physical therapist will then determine which type of vestibular rehabilitation will best meet the patient’s needs.

For more information on the new program, call the Waupun Memorial Hospital Sports & Spine Center at (920) 324-6544.

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