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Published on May 14, 2019

Diane Field with Mark Sullivan, PT

Dizzy with vertigo?

Stop the spinning with vestibular rehabilitation

Retirement is a time to relax, spend time with friends and family, travel, volunteer, and enjoy your favorite activities.

Wonewoc, Wis., resident Diane Field was savoring retirement—reading and relaxing at home, keeping up with her two sons, Dan and Doug, and her eight grandchildren, and enjoying the thrill of the casino— when a sudden onset of vertigo interrupted her plans in summer 2018.

"It came on really suddenly. I woke up one morning and I was like, 'Whoa…something's not right,' " Diane remembers. Vertigo is a common disorder of the vestibular system—the inner ear and part of the body's balance system.

Vertigo is known to trigger a spinning or moving sensation, often making people feel nauseous, unsteady, uncoordinated and like they're floating or rocking.

"It wasn't constant, but sometimes I would get this dizzy feeling," Diane says. "You almost walk like you're intoxicated…not steady on your feet."

Diane's vertigo came and went that summer, but when she stepped out of her truck to pick berries one day with her husband and suffered a dizzy spell, Diane decided it was time to do something about it.

At her annual physical, Diane mentioned the vertigo and was referred to vestibular rehabilitation with Mark Sullivan, PT, Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital.

Not knowing what to expect, Diane admits that the fear of the unknown was the hardest part of her rehab experience. Yet, after her first session, Diane's life quickly returned to normal with immediate relief from the dizziness.

"It was like a miracle. I think of Mark as the 'vertigo whisperer.' He got the crystals back in alignment that first day," Diane says. "I went back two more times to make sure all was fine, and he gave me some exercises to work on my balance that was not good at the time."

For vertigo cases like Diane's, Mark checks for mismatches between the ears and canals during vestibular rehab. A procedure that uses gravity gets the crystals back into place.

"If the vertigo is related to the crystals in the ear, patients often see success in one to two treatments," Sullivan says. "If a patient has been suffering with vertigo for a while, it can take longer. Usually though, relief is rapid, which is fun to see."

While the vestibular rehabilitation experience can differ depending on a patient's type of vertigo and other factors, Diane recommends anyone with vertigo or dizziness try vestibular rehab.

"Vertigo is an annoying thing, and most of the time it's not going to go away on its own. If you have a way to get rid of it in one to two treatments, it's worth it," she says.

Contact Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital at (608) 489-8260 to schedule an appointment for your dizziness and see whether vestibular rehabilitation may be a solution for you.

Diane Field undergoes vestibular rehabilitation with
Mark Sullivan, PT, at Gundersen St. Joseph's Hospital.

What is vestibular rehabilitation?

Vestibular rehabilitation is a type of physical therapy that can help relieve dizziness symptoms caused by a vestibular disorder. Common causes include:

  • Ear infections or inflammation
  • Fluid buildup in the inner ear
  • Migraines
  • Motion sickness
  • Rapid change in motion or position
  • Some medications
  • Aging
  • Result of a stroke

Testing is conducted to see what is causing the dizziness. Treatment often includes repositioning the crystals in the ear or assisting other systems in the body to help compensate for vestibular problems.

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