Recent Blog Articles

In the journals: Head maneuvers work best for common vertigo

Updated: August 01, 2008

In the journals

Head maneuvers work best for common vertigo

As anyone who's experienced it can tell you, vertigo is not your average dizzy spell. It's a false sense of motion — a feeling of tilting, spinning, or swaying when you're not actually moving. Some people feel as though they are twirling in space (subjective vertigo), others as though the world is turning around them (objective vertigo). Either way, it's often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sweating, and sometimes by uncontrolled eye movements called nystagmus. Though symptoms eventually subside, vertigo can be extremely distressing while it lasts.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), the most common form, occurs mainly in people ages 60 and over, and more often in women than in men. As its name implies, BPPV is triggered by certain changes in position, particularly head position — such as when turning in bed or tilting the head backward to look up. The most common treatment is physical therapy using various head and body maneuvers; after therapy, patients are sometimes told to restrict their activities for a few days. In another treatment, called habituation, patients adopt a vertigo-triggering position twice a day for several weeks and try to teach the brain not to set off the vertigo response. Other treatments include motion sickness medications, home exercises, and — in a few cases — surgery.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.