Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) for Unilateral Vestibular Loss

This page is intended to be a reference for physical therapists who are providing physical therapy.

Timothy C. Hain, MD • Page last modified: April 14, 2022

VRT has been generally shown to be helpful in recovery from unilateral loss, such as for vestibular neuritis or acoustic neuroma (Strupp et al. 1998; Herdman et al. 2003; Krebs et al. 2003; Badke et al. 2004; Cohen et al. 2004; Topuz et al. 2004; Hall et al, 2004; Enticott et al, 2005). An extensive metanalysis was done by the Cochrane Library in 2011, who concluded that VRT is effective for unilateral vestibular damage (Hillier and McDonnell, 2011).  This entire document is available online.

Recent improvements to the process is to use the "VHIT" test to assess the degree to which compensation has occured. (Blodrow et al, 2014)

The following protocol is loosely based on Tee et al, 2005; The "Cawthorne Cooksey" exercises can also be followed.

Goals of VRT

Procedures

General principles are that the activities should be a little difficult (i.e. provoke some mild dizziness), and also should be practiced in as many contexts (i.e. head positions, directions) as possible. If you do this under the direction of a physical therapist they will "progress" your exercises so they are always a little difficult for you, and also expand the exercises to include more contexts.

Some exercises, that are "unnatural" such as Treadmill walking, Elliptical training, Bicycle riding or swimming, don't train you for the "real world" very well because of what your body learns is often limited to the activity -- you can get really good at, lets say, Treadmill walking while watching TV and moving your head around, but it would be better to be walking outside.

Gaze Stabilization Exercises -- this is one simple method for horizontal gaze stabization exercises. Follow the link for more methods.

Foam 

Balance and gait training -- follow the link for more details.

 

Walking

Physical Conditioning

Persons with unilateral vestibular loss will generally improve by themselves given sufficient time, but the process can be sped up by VRT.

Alternatives: Some avocational activities such as Tai Chi are very good for vestibular rehabilitation. Yoga is also good for balance.

Also see the main page on VRT

References: