Vestibular Rehab For the Dizzy Girl

NYU Rusk Institute

Since beginning dance a couple of years ago now, I’ve always noticed that I seem to get a bit dizzier than others, even when just doing a few simple turns in a row. Now that I’ve started to do crazier things, such as lifts where the guy holds me over his head and spins and spins and spins with me completely in the air with no sensory reception coming from a foot being planted firmly on the floor, the dizziness is getting a little out of control. For a few years now, on and off, I’ve also experienced, unrelated to dance, some short bouts of vertigo, which is really scary. That’s when suddenly the world around you spins and spins and spins, and you completely lose all sense of equilibrium, unable even to tell which way is up, which was is right, which is left, etc. I usually only got those every few years, but when they increased to every few months, I decided it was time to go to the ENT. He did a bunch of tests and, sure enough, I have a small but present vestibular malfunction stemming from an embarrasingly stupid experience I had many years ago flying with a severe cold, when I used those supposed ear stabilizers they sale in drug stores. The stabilizers had the opposite effect on me, the ER doctor told me, because I happen to have very narrow ear canals, something I hadn’t then known. I’d flown from somewhere on the East Coast — likely TFGreen airport in Providence — home to Phoenix to visit my parents for the holidays, and when I got off the plane, in addition to unbearable pain in my ears, I couldn’t hear a thing — I saw my mom running toward me grinning hugely, arms out ready to hug me, lips moving joyfully, but it was like being in a silent film. I’d badly damaged both eardrums, for which I received antibiotics and everything was okay, but apparently I have some permanent slight vestibular malfunction.

So, doctor sent me to The Rusk Institute, run by the NYU Medical Center, pictured above. I’m about half way through the therapy, which will likely last about 8 weeks (I go once a week), and it’s going pretty well. My therapist says I’m far more advanced than the other patients there, which is good, because they’re mostly very elderly people or stroke victims. Interestingly, he thinks my TAC headaches may possibly be related to this, but that’s something I have to take up with my Columbia neurologist…

Anyway, here is one of my at-home exercises:

Vestibular Rehab B exercise

I have to hold this piece of paper about an arm’s distance from my face and move it from side to side while keeping my eyes focused on the B, and while walking down a long hallway. It’s a lot more dizzying than it looks! I also have to, without the paper, walk down a long hallway and every two steps make a 180-degree turn. So, I walk forward two steps, then turn and walk backward two steps, then turn and walk forward two steps, etc. Then, I have to do the same thing but making a full 360-degree turn, every three to five steps. Those are actually easier because it’s a little easier to spot, as I’ve been taught in dance classes, since your head is whipping around in one rotation. But part of the point of the exercise is not to spot so that I habituate to the feeling of dizziness while walking down a street or turning in real life, when I’m not dancing and concentrating on spotting.

The funniest part is some of the in-therapy exercises. I brought in a tape of Luis and me performing our mambo routine to show my therapist the lift/spin that really makes me want to retch. He kept the tape and not only viewed it himself but showed it to the head therapist there, who is a former ballet dancer(!), and the head of the center, all of whom said it would be near impossible to habituate oneself to such a thing and that no one in their right mind would NOT get dizzy! So, my therapist has taken to putting me in a chair with wheels, making me lean my head back, and spinning me around and around and around and around. He said he got dizzy just watching me. I really almost lost my lunch the last time! But I’m just glad a ballet dancer-turned-vestibular rehab specialist agrees with me that my Latin teachers are a bit off their nuts :)

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