Exercise Is Effective Vertigo Treatment

Elderly With Vertigo Can Benefit From 1 Exercise Session, Plus Daily Practice

Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on October 18, 2004
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 18, 2004 -- Elderly people suffering from vertigo, a common condition causing dizziness can get great relief from simple, inexpensive exercises, new research shows.

"Our findings indicate that [exercise therapy] can reduce symptoms, disability, and handicap resulting from chronic dizziness," writes researcher Lucy Yardley, PhD, a psychologist with the University of Southampton in Great Britain. Her study appears in the latest issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

However, it's important that exercise therapy begin as early as possible, ideally after vertigo first appears, writes Marianne Dieterich, MD, of Johannes-Guterberg University in an accompanying editorial. Medical treatment is equally important, as is motivation, she adds.

"We must motivate our patients that they do not withdraw socially and physically or immediately resort to using a cane or a walker to regain a sense of stability."

Vertigo is a common condition often caused by an inner ear problem. For elderly people especially, the dizziness can lead to substantial disability -- with falls, fear of falling, and loss of independence. Yet there's little that doctors can do in treating dizziness -- beyond reassurance and trying a couple of prescription drugs that provide little or no relief, Yardley writes.

A few exercises are known to work as a vertigo treatment, but doctors often don't discuss them with patients, writes Dietrich. The simple vertigo treatment studied involves eye, head, and body movements. It requires no equipment, so just about anyone can do it, she notes.

In fact, one earlier study showed that -- after two home visits by a nurse to teach them the exercises -- patients suffering from vertigo had less dizziness, fewer problems with mobility, and could stand and walk more confidently.

1 Half-Day Exercise Session Effective Vertigo Treatment

In her study, Yardley assigned 170 patients with vertigo -- all about age 60 -- to either get the exercise training or the usual medical care. The exercise group had a single half-day session with a nurse who taught them the exercises. In the first weeks afterward, the nurse called each patient twice to provide advice and boost morale.

At the three-month and six-month marks, each patient had tests to see how they were doing.

At the three-month follow-up, two-thirds of the exercise group had significantly greater improvement in their vertigo than the control group, -- which stayed with them six months later, reports Yardley. Only one-third of the "standard care" group had great improvements.

While some improvement might be due to the therapy's psychological effects -- most likely the attention and morale boost -- "the pattern of results is more consistent with a specific treatment effect," Yardley explains.

Her exercise-group patients were highly motivated to cure their vertigo, so they were quite willing to practice daily head movements -- even though those movements initially make their symptoms worse, she writes. With other patients, this brief setback could keep them from continuing.

However, giving patients a realistic view of the exercise program benefits and drawbacks can help ensure their commitment to the vertigo treatment, she adds.