Balance and dizziness disorders are serious health concerns impacting a large percentage of the population. Individuals with balance and/or dizziness problems often experience a frustrating cycle of physician referrals from one specialist to the next, mounting medical expenses, and no clear resolution of their problem. However, modern technology is offering new hope to these patients. Element Physical Therapy in Missoula, Montana has developed a program to identify and treat the source of a patient’s balance or dizziness problems with the help of some very specialized equipment. The same technology used to measure equilibrium in NASA shuttle crews pre- and post-flight is now assisting clinicians in assessing and treating patients with balance-related problems at Element Physical Therapy. The Department of Defense and the NFL combine use this same technology that we now have available at Element Physical Therapy. The NeuroCom SMART EquiTest® system for assessment and rehabilitation represents the most advanced balance and mobility assessment and treatment equipment available. Element Physical Therapy also has specialized binocular goggles, called video nystagmography goggles (VNG), made by Micromedical® which assist in the assessment of dizziness problems.
Patients at Element Physical Therapy with balance problems, concussions, neurologic impairments (such as MS, Strokes, Parkinson’s disease, and head Injuries), trouble with mobility, and dizziness problems can be tested on the NeuroCom SMART EquiTest® system which consists of a highly sensitive force plate connected to a computer. The force plate measures the patient’s stability as they perform various tasks designed to objectively assess their ability to perform everyday tasks. Specific tests can isolate the different components that contribute to balance control and help identify the patient’s balance problem. Other performance tests available objectively measure the patient’s ability to safely and efficiently perform mobility tasks that are common in daily life activities. The information provided by these computerized tests which is 100% objective, aids physical therapists in developing the best treatment for each individual patient.
Patients suffering from dizziness problems will also be assessed using the Micromedical® goggles which assist in determining the cause of the dizziness. These goggles are fitted on the patient, similar in fashion to ski goggles, and then record the eye movements of the patient during specific tests. These tests help to reveal if the dizziness may be the result of poor functioning of the inner ear, called the vestibular system. The most common cause of dizziness in people is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) which is a disorder arising in the inner ear. Its symptoms are repeated episodes of positional vertigo, in other words, a spinning sensation caused by changes in the position of the head. The Epley is a common maneuver used to correct BPPV, however, it is only one maneuver of approximately 16 that can be used to treat this condition. Once the cause of the dizziness is determined by your physical therapist, an individualized treatment plan is developed and implemented to begin minimizing or eliminating the dizziness.
Patients at Element Physical Therapy can also perform various exercises on the NeuroCom SMART EquiTest® system as part of their therapy. The system includes interactive technology with instant feedback, which is displayed on a computer screen to guide and prompt patients during rehabilitation. The patient’s movements are represented by an icon that follows exactly how a task is being performed. Targets may appear on the computer screen as the patient attempts to control their icon. The goal is to make the icon reach the targets, much like a video game. The clinician can design targets to encourage specific movements by the patient, thereby helping to build physical stability, endurance and confidence. Both the patient and the clinician can see the system’s computer screen in real time as the patient shifts his or her weight. Patients find the interactive nature of the system motivating as they can see immediately how they are performing. This system also provides printed reports displaying patient progress that can be shared with a patient, doctor, or insurance company.
The NeuroCom SMART EquiTest® system has specific applications to patients recovering from stroke, traumatic brain injury, concussion, and orthopedic or sports injuries. These conditions can restrict movement and expose the individual to the dangers of falling. The Smart EquiTest system is the only technology available in Western Montana that can objectively tell when an athlete is safe to return to play following a concussion. The equipment is also helping patients with balance problems such as dizziness, unsteadiness and falls. According to several medical studies, one-third to one-half of the population age 65 and older fall each year and many of these individuals require costly hospital stays due to fractures or head injuries.
Assessment and treatment using these specialized pieces of equipment is covered by health insurance at the same cost to the patient as compared to physical therapy received at other facilities. The NeuroCom SMART EquiTest® system is manufactured by NeuroCom® International, Inc. in Clackamas,Oregon. The Micromedical video nystagmography goggles are manufactured by Micromedical Technologies Inc. manufactured in Chatham, Illinois. For more information on the NeuroCom SMART EquiTest® system, the Micromedical VNG goggles, or other advances in balance and dizziness assessment or rehabilitation, please contact Element Physical Therapy at 406-543-7860.
Amy Downing is a Physical Therapist and owner at
Element Physical Therapy