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Published on July 15, 2013

Exercises to Help with Vertigo

If only Jimmy Stewart’s character in the Hitchcock film Vertigo had received some medication or physical therapy for his debilitating dizziness. But if you’re suffering from vertigo or balance problems, you can do something about it. Specifically, here are exercises you can perform to help you regain independence and get back to your normal daily routine.

First, a little background: Millions of people suffer from balance problems and vertigo, which can be the result of two main problems.

“Vertigo can be subdivided into causes originating in the brain, such as stoke and multiple sclerosis, or causes in the inner ear, the latter being more frequent,” said Dr. Lee Harris, a neurologist at Abington Memorial Hospital. “The inner ear helps to control balance, and it can be damaged as a result of an ear infection, head injury, or when a small fragmented calcium crystal is knocked out of place, a condition known as BPPV [benign paroxysmal positional vertigo].”

While your doctor might recommend physical therapy and certain medications to treat your condition, you can help improve your balance by doing simple exercises at home. It’s important to gradually increase the intensity of your exercises, so do what you can in the beginning. Here are various exercises from which to choose from to improve your balance.

Beginner Exercises

*Safety Note: For each exercise, stand with a chair in front of you and a wall behind you. If you are not exercising with someone else, you will need something to hold onto in case you lose your balance.

Exercise #1 (The Romberg Exercise)
Stand with your feet together and arms at your side. Hold for 30 seconds.

Exercise #2
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms at your side. Lean forward slightly and then backward; your weight should shift from your toes to your heels. Keep your toes and heels flat on the floor, while making sure your shoulders and hips move together. Repeat the swaying motion 20 times, twice a day. Try to progress to 30 times a session, and eventually with your eyes closed.

Exercise #3
This will be a similar to Exercise #2, except you will sway from side to side. Do this swaying motion 20 times, twice a day. Try to progress to 30 times a session, and eventually with your eyes closed.

Exercise #4
Stand with your feet slightly apart and arms at your side. March in place and lift your knees towards the ceiling. Repeat 20 times.

Exercise #5 (The Epley Maneuver)
“This particular exercise is good for treating BPPV, since it utilizes gravity and the anatomy of the inner ear to help get rid of displaced crystals to cure the condition,” said Dr. Harris. To do this maneuver at home, start by sitting upright in the middle of your bed. Rotate your head approximately 45 degrees towards the ear that is causing your symptoms (the "bad ear" is the side that causes you to feel dizzy when you turn onto that side). Keeping your neck and head at this angle, gently lie down and stay in this position for one minute. You may feel dizzy when you do this, but it will pass in under a minute. Then, slowly rotate your head towards your good ear as far as possible. Stay in this position for one minute.  Then, slowly roll your entire body towards your good ear and stay for one minute with your head turned toward your chest. Finally, return to a sitting position with your head up but flexed forward and remain in that position for one minute. This will be easier to do if you have a companion to assist, especially as the maneuver may make you feel dizzy, and it is important not to fall out of bed if that occurs. Continue to perform this maneuver three times a day until your symptoms go away.

Intermediate Exercises

*Safety Note: For each exercise, stand with a chair in front of you and a wall behind you. If you are not exercising with someone else, you will need something to hold onto in case you lose your balance.

Exercise #1
Stand with feet slightly apart and arms at your side. Turn 180 degrees and stop for ten seconds. Repeat five times, alternating between turning to the right and to the left each time. If turning a certain direction makes you feel dizzier, focus on turning that way. Complete twice a day.

Exercise #2
Stand with feet together and arms at your side. Move your head up and down ten times, then side to side ten times, and diagonally up and down ten times. Do this for 15-20 minutes twice a day.

Walking Exercises

*Safety Note: Walk with someone or next to a wall with a handrail.

Exercise #1
Walk five steps, turn around, and walk back. Wait ten seconds or until dizziness goes away. Repeat five times.

Exercise #2
Walk five steps and quickly stop. Wait ten seconds or until you no longer feel dizzy. Repeat until you’ve walked approximately 50 feet. Do twice a day.

Exercise #3
Walk 50 feet while moving your head up and down. Walk 50 feet while tipping your head side to side towards your shoulders. Do twice a day.

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