Vestibular rehabilitation for dizziness and balance disorders after concussion. J Neurologic Physical Therapy. 2010 Jun;34(2):87-93. Alsalaheen BA, Mucha A, Morris LO, Whitney SL, Furman JM, Camiolo-Reddy CE, Collins MW, Lovell MR, Sparto PJ.
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE:
Management of dizziness and balance dysfunction is a major challenge after concussion. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of vestibular rehabilitation in reducing dizziness and to improve gait and balance function in people after concussion.
A retrospective chart review of 114 patients (67 children aged 18 years and younger [mean, 16 years; range, 8-18 years]; 47 adults older than 18 years [mean, 41 years; range, 19-73 years]) referred for vestibular rehabilitation after concussion was performed. At the time of initial evaluation and discharge, recordings were made of outcome measures of self-report (eg, dizziness severity, Activities-specific Balance Confidence Scale, and Dizziness Handicap Inventory) and gait and balance performance (eg, Dynamic Gait Index, gait speed, and the Sensory Organization Test). A mixed-factor repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to test whether there was an effect of vestibular rehabilitation therapy and age on the outcome measures.
The median length of time between concussion and initial evaluation was 61 days. Of the 114 patients who were referred, 84 returned for at least 1 visit. In these patients, improvements were observed in all self-report, gait, and balance performance measures at the time of discharge (P < .05). Children improved by a greater amount in dizziness severity (P = .005) and conditions 1 (eyes open, fixed support) and 2 (eyes closed, fixed support) of the Sensory Organization Test (P < .025).
Vestibular rehabilitation may reduce dizziness and improve gait and balance function after concussion. For most measures, the improvement did not depend on age, indicating that vestibular rehabilitation may equally benefit both children and adults.
Vestibular rehabilitation should be considered in the management of individuals post-concussion who have dizziness and gait and balance dysfunction that do not resolve with rest.
The problem with this study is in the abstract it says vestibular rehabilitation is equally effective for both children and adults. However, if you read the actual paper, the findings showed anything but. Adults showed no significant improvements in self reported dizziness, improving from a 21/100 pretreatment to only 20/100 post treatment, while children improved from 26/100 to a 7/100. In testing for Dynamic Computerized Posturography children improved pretreatment to post treatment, while adults had zero improvement. The text of the paper even says:
“…there was no significant difference in dizziness for the adult group between pre- and post-treatment”
The exercises described in the study were gaze stabilization in which the person maintained focus on a fixed object while they turned their head, standing balance on a foam roll with eyes open and closed, and walking with balance challenges to include head turning, tandem walking, and obstacle avoidance. They did canalith repositioning in only a few cases and it was interesting that out of 114 patients with post-concussive syndrome dizziness only 5 were diagnosed with benign paroxysimal positional vertigo (BPPV). I think this helps to explain the lack of effect with vestibular rehabilitation in the adults. In my physical therapy practice I have noticed canalith repositioning to be near miraculous for eliminating vertigo, and it’s well supported by research for that, but for other balance disorders I can’t say that I have noticed much of an effect from the other vestibular exercises, gaze stabilization etc.
So while this paper is a bit of downer with regards to vestibular exercise for post-concussive syndrome, it’s valuable in that helps to indicate some exercises patients and therapists probably shouldn’t waste their time on for adults with post concussive syndrome. The good news is that in researching potential physical therapy programs for post concussion syndrome, I came across a number of papers finding very positive effects with the use of aerobic exercises, which I plan to do a few blogs on coming up. [edit to add research showing effectiveness of aerobic exercise on post-concussion syndrome]
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Chad Reilly is a Physical Therapist, obtaining his Master’s in Physical Therapy from Northern Arizona University. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. Exercise Science also from NAU. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and holds a USA Weightlifting Club Coach Certification as well as a NASM Personal Training Certificate. Chad completed his Yoga Teacher Training at Sampoorna Yoga in Goa, India.