This brief (but actionable) post will introduce you to the most useful physical exercises developed to treat various forms of vertigo. Also, you will be guided to more specific resources once you learn about the bigger picture. You will understand which exercises have the highest success rate and when to use specific home-based rehabilitation therapy (and when to seek professional assistance). We have included the most necessary tips and facts before you decide to dive deeper into one of the exercises. We hope you will find what you were looking for. Be well!
Vertigo refers to a specific type of dizziness. It is characterized by a sensation of movement even while you are standing or sitting still, or a feeling that the environment is moving around you. It can occur simultaneously with other types of dizzy feelings like light-headedness.There are four main conditions that commonly cause vertigo:
1. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo
3. Ménière's Disease
4. Vestibular Neuritis
Good news – rehabilitation exercises can help all of these causes of vertigo. But first, it's important to know why you have vertigo so you can pick the exercises that will best help your condition.
All of these conditions affect the “inner ear” or vestibular labyrinth – a series of fluid-filled canals, a large nerve, and a part of the brain that are in charge of monitoring your motion, balance, and proximity to other objects. Any motion within the fluid of the vestibular labyrinth is conducted via the vestibular nerve and interpreted by the brain as
Vestibular rehabilitation exercises can help the brain to find balance even when there is an issue with the inner ear. Classically, vestibular exercises were only safe to be performed by a physician but there have been new developments in exercises that are prescribed to be performed at home.
CAUTION: Some vertigo rehabilitation exercises are safe to perform at home without the supervision of a physician, but others are dangerous and could lead to serious injury. Follow your physician's recommendations.
The brain relies on signals from three things for balance – muscles, eyes, and the inner ear. Dizziness and balance issues arise when there are issues with any of these three. Rehabilitation exercises engage the eyes and muscles to train the brain to compensate for any problems with the inner ear.
Cawthorne-Cooksey exercises are designed to develop vestibular compensation. Vestibular disorders often affect only one ear, but the nervous system is unable to compensate for this imbalance. Instead, it reacts as if both inner ears are working correctly, resulting in symptoms of poor coordination and dizziness when moving the head. Luckily, the nervous system can be taught to adapt to the imbalance between inner ears, through a process called vestibular compensation. By repeating Cawthorne-Cooksey exercises, the nervous system learns to adapt.
These exercises also aim to relax the neck and shoulders, practice good balance, improve coordination and unprompted movements.
Cawthorne-Cooksey exercises range from simple eye movements through to complex movements like throwing and catching a ball. These exercises are generally safe to perform if you take them slow, but for best results speak to a physician about which exercises are most appropriate for your condition.
· A forum user reported that “I was given the cawthorne cooksley exercises and had immediate relief" - https://patient.info/forums/discuss/has-anyone-please-got-some-advice-for-vertigo--73015
· Another reports that symptoms can increase after performing Cawthorne-Cooksey excises: “Having carried out a 10 minute session of Cooksey this morning I felt dizzier but reading previous comments I guess this is the same for everyone whilst the brain and body readjusts.” - https://patient.info/forums/discuss/vestibular-neuritis-any-recovery-stories--338874
Remember – if the exercises are not inducing any feelings of dizziness, it may be time to increase the level of difficulty!
Gaze stabilising exercises will help to improve your balance as you walk by first training your eyes to focus on a stationary object while your head is moving. These exercises begin by fixing your eyes on an object in the distance and then performing easy, slow head movements. Even a slight tilt of the head can trigger dizziness at first, but this will decrease with repetition. The exercises then increase in difficulty to train the vestibular network to tolerate movements of the head and eventually to reduce dizziness while walking.
· A 2004 trial showed that all vertigo patients who at-home gaze stabilising exercises showed improved balance, co-ordination and gait .
· A vertigo forum user reported their experience of gaze stabilising excises exercise: “To begin with I would look at a small object, on a playing card, only moving my eyes and then gradually building up to moving my head, slowly... I persevered with the exercises along with medication and a series of alternative treatments. I'm pleased to say, although I still suffer, that the vertigo gradually improved and I have been driving again and get out and about.” - https://patient.info/forums/discuss/vrt-exercises-385326
CAUTION: Perform gaze stabilising exercises with assistance until you feel confident to practice on your own. Do not advance to more difficult exercises without supervision.
Many people with vertigo have been using games on consoles like the Wii to improve their balance, coordination and resistance against vertigo.
Users on vertigo forums report improvement in their symptoms, with one user saying:
· The Wii fit is wonderful. I noticed a decrease in my symptoms after playing the balance games. I love the soccer ball game. It seemed to help my motion sick/dizzy feeling. - https://www.mvertigo.org/t/wii-fit/966/3
· I have the Wii Fit. My vestibular therapist also recommended it. The visuals on some of the exercises are too much for me...it all depends on how dizzy you are before exercising. I think it can indeed help with balance because it's kind of like the balance machines at the doctor's...you can see your center of balance and adjust it. – https://www.mvertigo.org/t/wii-fit/966/12
If anecdotal evidence isn't enough for you, there is a study that supports using the the Nintendo Wii Balance Board as a tool for vestibular rehabilitation . In particular, the bowling game within the Wii Fit Plus bundle acts as a Cawthorne-Cooksey exercise, and a “table tilt” game mimics gait stabilising exercise. Other titles that exercise balance skills include Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll, Shaun White Snowboarding.
While these video games can help, they won't necessarily have as much of an impact as traditional vertigo exercises. The most improvement seems to occur when video games are used in conjunction with traditional vestibular rehabilitation therapies that are prescribed by a physician for the patient's particular requirements.
While all types of vertigo can improve with the exercises described above, only benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) will benefit from the following exercises that aim to dislodge particles within the inner ear that are characteristic for BPPV.
BPPV is characterized by short episodes of vertigo that are triggered by movement of the head. This includes moving the head along the neck axis (as in nodding “yes”), lying down, turning over, or sitting up from a horizontal position.
BPPV can be caused by calcium crystals inside the inner ear becoming detached and moving deeper into the canals where they trigger the vestibular nerve and send false messages of movement to the brain. Many of the exercises for BPPV are designed to dislodge and relocate these crystals to parts of the inner ear where they won't cause vertigo, or to reposition a part of the inner ear that may be “floating” in the wrong area.
· A study in 2008 concluded that at-home exercises are a better treatment choice for chronic BPPV than medications 
Step 1: See a Doctor!
Before undertaking any exercises to treat BPPV, it is useful to know which part of the inner ear is affected so that you can choose the right exercise. Speak to your doctor about your symptoms of vertigo. They will likely perform a procedure called the Dix-Hallpike test to determine which canal of the inner ear is causing your vertigo, and whether you are experiencing canalithiasis or cupulolithiasis – find out more about these here →
The Epley Procedure is the go-to exercise to treat BPPV. It involves a series of movements designed to move dislodged crystals out of the canals of the vestibular network. Relocating the dislodged crystals can stop them from triggering vertigo.
· In a 2015 prospective study, performing the Epley procedure was found to be more effective than medications in treating BPPV 
It is safest and most effective when performed by a physician, but there is a version of the Epley manoeuvre that is safe to do at home. It involves a series of movements involving lying down, turning the head side to side to a particular degree, and sitting back up.
The Epley Procedure is particularly effective for BPPV of the posterior and anterior canals, and can help to relieve canalithiasis but ask your physician if the Epley manoeuvre will be effective for you, and if is safe for you.
CAUTION - Do NOT try the Epley Procedure if you have:
The Brandt-Daroff exercises are a series of rapid movements where moving the head and torso rapidly side-to-side dislodges any debris that has lodged in the inner ear canals.
Research shows that the Brandt-Daroff exercises need to be performed daily for 10 – 12 days before symptoms disappear. Studies have found that in cases of BPPV that affect the posterior canal, the Brandt-Daroff exercises aren't as effective as the Epley procedures, but they still have some benefit and can be easier for some patients to perform .
Forum users report improvement with Brandt-Daroff exercises: “Thank you for the information [on Brandt-Daroff exercises], just tried it and feel better already” -https://patient.info/forums/discuss/dizzyiness-and-headaches-103953
It is prescribed not only for people with BPPV but also sometimes for patients with labyrinthitis.
We're not talking about any specific exercise here – research has shown that women with sedentary lifestyles are 2.6 x more likely to suffer from BPPV than those who do regular physical exercise .
Anecdotal evidence from online community forums suggests that Yoga and Tai Chi are great forms of exercise to improve balance while in recovery for BPPV.
A 2016 report backs this up and suggests that Tai Chi is a particularly effective exercise for older people who are at risk for falling .
CAUTION: Avoid any Yoga poses called “inversions” – this refers to any pose where the head is lower than the heart. The rush of blood to the head can affect the inner ear and trigger vertigo attacks. the
Other exercises have been developed for the treatment of BPPV, but many of them are dangerous, and should only be performed by a qualified physician:
 Bazoni, J. A., et al. (2014) Physical Activity in the Prevention of Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo: Probable Association. Int Arch Otorhinolaryngol., 18:4, 387 – 390. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296996/
 Ibekwe, T. S. & Rogers, C. (2012) Clinical evaluation of posterior canal benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Niger Med J., 53:2, 94 – 101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3530256/
 Fife, T. D., et al. (2008) Practice parameter: Therapies for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (an evidence-based review): Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 70, 2067 – 2074. http://www.neurology.org/content/70/22/2067.long
 Kulcu, D. G., et al. (2008) Efficacy of a home-based exercise program on benign paroxysmal positional vertigo compared with betahistine. J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg., 37:3, 373 – 379. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19128642
 Guar, S., et al. (2015) Efficacy of Epley's Maneuver in Treating BPPV Patients: A Prospective Observational Study. Int J https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606415/
 Sparrer, I., et al. (2013) Vestibular rehabilitation using the Nintendo® Wii Balance Board -- a user-friendly alternative for central nervous compensation. Acta Otolaryngol., 133:3, 239 – 245. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23131174
 Furman, J. M., Raz, Y. & Whirney, S. L. (2016) Geriatric vestibulopathy assessment and management. Curr Opin 386 - 391. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4879828/
James Lyons is a clinical nutritionist with special interest in vestibular disorders, endocrine conditions, and LGBT health. He is passionate about health education and patient autonomy, and he supports resources that empower everyone to make informed decisions about their health. James lives in the eastern beaches area of Sydney, Australia and works globally.