By Dr. Lars I.E. Oddsson, PhD.
Imagine the following – you wake up one morning feeling nauseous and the world is spinning around you! You instantly vomit when you try to get out of bed! It is like an invisible force is pushing making you weak and dizzy to the point where you feel unable to move! You try to roll around in bed and again, you vomit!
So what is going on here? These are signs that you may be experiencing an episode of Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo! Wow, that’s a mouthful so it’s BPPV for short. The good news? As unpleasant and debilitating as this condition may be, it is benign and pretty much fixable by a physical therapist.
BPPV is a problem with the balance system and I used it here as a dramatic example of how important balance is for our everyday physical function, mobility, independence and quality of life. In fact, balance is a sense we rarely think about, until there is a problem. However, the brain is constantly monitoring our state of balance and automatically keeping us stable. For example, if you decide to stand on one leg, you don’t have to think about first shifting your weight over to the leg you plan to stand on, it happens automatically through a sequence of muscle actions. Think about it, if you ONLY lift one leg off the ground (which you can consciously decide to do), then you will actually begin to fall in the direction of the lifted leg. So, there is a lot more going on that actually prevents that from happening.
BPPV is only one of many diseases that affect balance and make life miserable for millions of people. So how does the balance system work? Well let’s save that for an upcoming blog. Thank You for now.
Oh sorry, so what actually causes BPPV? Here is the short explanation. Small crystals called otoconia, part of the vestibular system for balance in the inner ear, have actually come lose causing confusing signals to the brain about your state of balance. This “sensory conflict” can cause unpleasant nausea, vertigo and dizziness. Following a correct diagnosis, a trained physical therapist can move the head through a sequence of positions to move the otoconia back in position, sort of doing a 3D “labyrinth game”. Pretty interesting, right? In fact, this is sometimes called the “Epley maneuver” after Dr. Epley who figured this out. Check out this link if you are interested to learn more!
Finally, more on technology that can help balance? We will get to that in future blogs as well.