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Vertigo: common signs and symptoms

Published: 25 February 2021

Vertigo is described as a sense of motion which makes the room feel as though it is spinning. Vertigo is a symptom caused by many different conditions, but most commonly Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or BPPV for short.

The vestibular system has three semicircular canals filled with fluid that detect head movement and then send messages to the brain about the orientation of your body to keep you balanced.

With BPPV, small crystals that are usually held in a different part of the inner ear, dislodge and fall into one of the canals.

These crystals change the fluid movement in the affected canal, sending confused information about our head movement to our brains. These false messages create a feeling of vertigo.

Your physiotherapist will use the Hallpike-Dix test to diagnose the condition. This involves moving through a variety of sitting and lying positions.

Common symptoms of Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo 

Vertigo caused by BPPV often occurs when people change position:

  • Turning over in bed
  • Bending down
  • Turning head
  • Looking up
  • Standing up from a sitting position
  • Feeling off balance while walking

What causes BPPV?

  • A knock to the head
  • Some antibiotics
  • Degeneration of the vestibular system due to age
  • Idiopathic (no known cause)

How is BPPV treated?

BPPV is treated with a series of manoeuvres involving head turning and positioning the body to hold the head in very specific postures. This is called the Epley Manoeuvre. The aim of the Epley Manoeuvre is to move the crystals out of the canals to be resorbed by the body.

While many people will have resolution of their symptoms after only one treatment, it is very common to require several treatments or to have a recurrence of your symptoms at a later date.

Your physiotherapist therefore will provide you with some exercises to do at home to manage any future symptoms. It is also common for you to feel a little more vertigo on the day you have been treated.

It is a good idea to avoid lying flat after your treatment until you go to bed that night. There is no need to change your usual routine; you can resume your normal activity and exercise regime when your symptoms allow you to.

Other causes of vertigo

Other conditions can cause vertigo. It is important to see your doctor for an assessment if you have other symptoms which could include; ringing ears, infections, double vision, weakness, numbness, speech/swallowing difficulties, and/or severe headache.

Further reading: Are you dizzy or is it vertigo?
Further reading: Vertigo and The Vestibular System

Concerned you may have vertigo? Book your free initial assessment with your local Motion Health practice.


Sophie Parrôt (Member APA) - Physiotherapist and Practice Director at Back In Motion Camberwell