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News and Featured Stories from St. Vincent's Medical Center
Published: 04/28/2012

Shedding Light on St. Vincent's
Vestibular Balance Program

St. Vincent's Medical Center Vestibular Rehabilitation St. Vincent’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Therapy Department (located on 1M) has added a new tool to their vestibular balance program. New infrared goggles can clearly show nystagmus, a condition of involuntary eye movement resulting in severe dizziness.

With this knowledge, physical therapists can identify the type of inner ear problem and diagnose why the dizziness and balance issues are occurring. According to Joanne Velardi, director of Employee Health, Wellness and Rehabilitation, traditional physical therapy interventions are helpful in strengthening trunk or core muscles and lower extremities to help improve balance. Muscle weakness is only one possible cause for imbalance and falls. Chronic balance issues tend to come from issues stemming from the inner ear or an event in the brain, such as a stroke.

St. Vincent’s Outpatient Rehab currently has two physical therapists on staff that specialize in treating dizziness and balance. Anne Wolf, PT, is a certified vestibular therapist and is also certified in treating cervicogenic (stemming from the neck) dizziness, which allows for a more accurate differential diagnosis. Outpatient Coordinator Irene Lindquist, PT, has extensive continuing education in vestibular therapy. Both therapists apply advanced assessment and treatment strategies as well as provide education to patients and their families to help manage their risk of falling.

“Many times, patients will present to the Emergency Department or to their primary care physician with such symptoms and are unaware of the therapy methods that can help them regain their life back,” said Wolf. “We sometimes only need one session to cure a case of vertigo, which has affected a life for 25 years. They just need to know we are here.” The Dix–Hallpike test is a diagnostic maneuver used to identify benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which can easily be carried out by Anne or Irene. Once diagnosed, a maneuver is performed and may all but cure the dizziness in just one session! Other causes of dizziness may take longer to treat. 

The vestibular balance program also holds NASA technology in their pocket. The dynamic posturography machine, Neurocom Smart Equi-test Balance Master and Force Plate, creates a computerized assessment of patients’ balance challenges. The therapists have an added ability to test patients in a variety of situations and assess multiple systems, including visual, vestibular, muscular and sensory.

According to Irene Lindquist, PT, coordinator of outpatient physical therapy “Through this equipment and the testing protocols available, we can often identify the cause of a persistent patient complaint during the initial 90 minute session. Our patients are able to ‘see the light at the end of a tunnel’ as they watch their improvements mapped out on graphs and receive visual feedback as they participate in exercises tailored to specifically impact and improve their balance.”

Those with dizziness issues are encouraged to seek consultation with their primary care physician to request a referral to the vestibular therapy program.

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