- Brian Sass
Unwanted Sensations of Dizziness: Part 1
This blog series is for everyone who is experiencing chronic, unwanted sensations in their body. These unwanted sensations that people feel can be described in limitless ways; dull and achy pain, ringing tones or screeching noises in the ear, distorted visual spots or auras in their vision, disorientation with their environment, or just simply things feel “not quite right”. A sensation is anything that you perceive through one of the five senses; smell, touch, taste, sound, and sight. Dizziness is a very general term that may include any number of sensations that usually entail feelings of movement when you are standing still or not moving. Dizziness can manifest as the sensation of disequilibrium, vertigo, nausea, unsteadiness on your feet, rocking on a boat, floating sensations, being pulled into the ground, lightheadedness, visual disturbances, or simply feeling “not quite right”. How is this possible? The human brain is comprised of billions of neurons with trillions of connections between them; dizziness occurs as a result of neural impulses that are sent from your brain and body from neuron to neuron. Every person that experiences dizziness will have a unique way to describe it. The sensations that you feel are sometimes difficult to describe and therefore difficult to find the problem area in the body or the cause of the sensation. Regardless of the type of sensation you experience or the diagnosis you may be told regarding your dizziness, there is a pattern of neural firing in your brain and body that do not match your current environment. This is what is called a sensory mismatch or error; it feels “wrong” and creates a conflict in the brain that is manifested as dizziness. It is important to understand that these unwanted sensations and symptoms of dizziness are neural patterns activating in your body and brain. These neural firing patterns can occur with normal medical testing results; many people will see an ENT or medical neurologist to get relevant medical tests (MRI scan, CT scan, blood tests, hearing tests, etc.), but many times an abnormality is not found. In these cases, the dizziness or unwanted sensations are neural firing patterns that only you can feel; your brain and body are creating them but doctors cannot explain what is causing them. What do you do now? Why is this happening to you? Is there something you can do to fix these unwanted sensations?
The brain and body are a complex system with mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Remarkably, the brain has the amazing ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections between neurons in response to experience or injury, which is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is a process of feeling and reintegration. Building new pathways and reorganizing synaptic networks is less about “getting rid of symptoms”, but rather about redefining a new normal in terms of sensations and function. You can rebuild neural pathways through daily practice and through certain rehabilitation exercises. Neuroplasticity is dependent on two fundamental premises; density and specificity. In order to rebuild and reorganize neural circuitry, the therapy that you choose must have enough volume and frequency to make the networks change. You must also engage in therapies that target the brain areas you want to change. For example, if you experience dizziness, it is imperative to include vestibular rehabilitation exercises in the therapies; emotional, cognitive, and mental therapies are typically not enough to significantly change vestibular integration on their own.
There are two main stages to recovery; most people get stuck on stage one and never reach stage two. Stage one is the investigation and diagnosis by a medical doctor and medical clearance from their testing procedures. There are many neural pathways inside of the brain and body; it is impossible to test them all. Many people who experience dizziness or other unwanted sensations will have seen more than one doctor or health professional on their journey to resolve their symptoms. Sometimes, people will see up to 20 or 30 doctors and still be left wondering what to do. Why does this happen? Medical doctors investigate symptoms by ordering tests to learn if there is an underlying medical cause that they can treat. These tests have an important role in diagnosis and potential treatment options, but often the tests results are negative or do not show a conclusive cause of your symptoms. Stage one is important for the recovery process because you sometimes need to make sure that you are not in serious medical danger. Checking basic vital signs, structural and anatomical integrity, and ruling out other serious disease processes is important for your peace of mind and for medical clearance. One of your first questions should be, “Am I in serious danger? Do I need immediate medical intervention?” This is a crucial step, but numerous people are left with no answers or direction is their medical tests come back normal. What do you do next? Where do you go from here?
Stage two involves stimulating neuroplasticity for recovery and learning to use neuroplasticity every day. Many people do not believe that they can actually change their symptoms by themselves after spending a lot of time and effort during Stage one. Many people feel hopeless and lost when medical doctors cannot help them resolve their symptoms. Medical doctors that only utilize medication and surgery cannot reset your neural pathways for you. Medications may be useful in helping to manage symptoms but typically should not be considered as a long-term solution. This is why Stage two is very important. If you are at this point, where you experience dizziness or other unwanted sensations but have not found answers from traditional medical testing and treatment, Stage two is for you. The good news is that neuroplasticity can be performed on your own and through rehabilitation in a clinical setting. There is still hope! You are not lost and you are not alone. Upcoming blogs in this series will go into greater detail of Stage two and how you can learn to use neuroplasticity to change your neural networks and help reduce your unwanted sensations and symptoms.
1. Remenyi, Joey. Rock Steady: Healing Vertigo or Tinnitus with Neuroplasticity. Published by Page Two Books, 2021.
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