Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is the most common condition treated by the therapists in our vestibular program. BPPV is characterized by abnormalities in the inner ear that may influence our perceptions of motion and balance. Any accompanying symptoms that present can be uncomfortable and often affect quality of life.
Otoconia is the name for tiny crystals of calcium carbonate that are typically found in a certain part of the ear. They're so small that they are invisible to the naked eye. These crystals cause a problem when they shift from their normal position and float around the ear canal. This is because this displacement can disrupt the nerve signals being sent to the brain.
What Does BPPV Feel Like?
Motion of the fluid inside of the ear canal only occurs when we physically move. Having additional particles in the inner ear disrupts this fluid, causing the brain to think that we're moving more or at faster speeds than we actually are.
Many BPPV patients report that they've experienced vertigo, or a spinning sensation, when they change their head position. This usually happens when a person rolls over or attempts to get in/out of bed. Vertigo can also occur when BPPV patients move their head quickly, such as responding to a loud noise or turning to look at someone.
Treatment for BPPV
BPPV is typically treated by specialist PTs who use manual techniques called repositioning maneuvers to get the crystals back into place. A well-known technique is the Epley maneuver, and it involves following a specific order of head and trunk movements to shift the crystals in the inner ear so they cannot cause symptoms.
As it can be a recurring condition for some people, many BPPV patients are reassured that symptoms can be quickly treated by a therapist with a noninvasive, painless technique. A majority of BPPV cases can be corrected within 2-3 physical therapy sessions.