The Vestibular System
The vestibular system, sometimes damaged during a stroke, is a complex part of the inner ear that helps you keep your balance and orientation in space to the world around you. Your brain coordinates input from your vestibular system, your eyes, and your joints and muscles to determine whether you’re balanced, and helps you make the necessary corrections if you’re not.
After a stroke, you may be dealing with several physical impairments, one of which may be a vestibular disorder. Vestibular disorders caused by stroke create symptoms that can’t be seen and are hard for others to understand. Beyond the physical implications of a vestibular disorder, such as risk of injury from falls, some struggle because the symptoms have a significant effect on relationships, leisure activities, and work.
Symptoms of Vestibular Disorders
The vestibular system is delicate. If there’s a disruption in your vestibular system from a stroke, you might experience vertigo or dizziness, along with other symptoms.
Vertigo, one of the most common symptoms of a vestibular disorder, is the feeling that you or your environment is moving or spinning - it’s an illusion of movement. In addition to vertigo, patients with vestibular disorders may also report:
Unsteadiness when walking
Sensitivity to light and noise
Trouble with concentration, memory, or thinking
Headaches and muscle aches in your neck or upper back
Symptoms can be severe or mild and last minutes, hours, or even longer. If you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, on an uneven surface, in dim lighting, or feel tired, your symptoms may become more severe. Worse, vestibular disorders can make everyday tasks, such as reading, looking at a computer screen, driving, or even walking, very difficult. And, if symptoms persist, you might find yourself feeling irritable, anxious, or depressed.
Treatment for Vestibular Disorders for Stroke Survivors
Vestibular disorders brought on by stroke usually respond to treatment. However, recovery time will take longer for stroke patients than for those who have vestibular conditions stemming from the ear.
After you receive a diagnosis from your doctor, physical therapy at Mary Free Bed’s Outpatient Therapy Center can train your body to properly read movement-based signals and not create symptoms.
Your physical therapist assesses your vestibular deficits by testing your balance, walking, positional sensitivity, and eye-head coordination, and may measure your strength, evaluate your joint range of motion, and assess coordination.
Treatment includes any combination of:
Eye-head coordination exercises
Training repetitive motions to decrease vertigo and dizziness
After a series of physical therapy sessions, usually about seven sessions, most patients have significantly reduced or eliminated their symptoms.
Contact the Vestibular Program
For more information or to make a referral, please contact Mary Free Bed's Vestibular Program at:
616.493.9621 or 800.668.6001
350 Lafayette SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503-4651