How strength training helped me deal with vertigo

strength training for vertigoWe aren’t just concerned with knee problems here: training can help with other physical problems such as vertigo. A long-term trainee of Chris’s, Pauline, gives her story of how this training helped her with Uncompensating Labyrinthitis (an inner-ear ailment affecting balance):

Chris is a friend of my sons and, as such, I have known him for many years. So it was quite natural that, when I became unwell, they insist I sought his professional help.

I had a sudden onset of vertigo in February 2010 which took six months to diagnose. I had become so weak that at first it was thought I had ME but the neurologist‘s only concern was the vertigo and diagnosed Uncompensating Labyrinthitis. The nerve supply to one of the ears has been severed through trauma or a viral infection. Since I was fit and well when I had the initial attack, it is uncertain as to how I came by it. Perhaps it had been coming on for years as I had noticed since having children, and especially since the menopause, that my balance had slowly deteriorated but nothing debilitating.

Before the incidents, I was used to doing six hours of exercise a week – dance, aerobics, Tai Chi, walking, and gardening. I considered myself to be very fit and to suddenly find I could not move was distressing. I became weak and breathless and any exertion raised my pulse uncomfortably. Even though I forced myself to be as mobile as possible, it was difficult doing simple things like climbing the stairs. It also affected my self-confidence. I would not drive far from home and concentrating on driving was hard. Shopping was terrifying as people moved around me too quickly, causing me to lose my balance. I had to have people to help me in these situations. The neurologist said that the nerve supply to the inner ear would never regrow (nerves often can do this) and that the reason for my weakness was that the brain had switched the body off just to keep me balanced. Hence the Uncompensating aspect of the diagnosis.

With this in mind I could no longer do normal physical exercises. Chris’ understanding of this predicament was spot on. He started me with lightweight vested squats, working on the body moving smoothly, properly aligned and in balance. The first thing I noticed was that I could do as he instructed without losing my balance. I realised that the brain was content with simple moves where the head was not moving all over the place seeking points of stability and I was able to concentrate on the exercises. My self-confidence slowly returned as did my physical strength. Squatting has strengthened quads and gluts, strengthened abs, lung capacity and cardiac strength. I have always taken a footbridge over the local railway line. It is very steep and I treat it as part of my exercise. In the past my thighs ached at the top and my breath came in gasps. Now there is no exertion on the body – nothing aches, I am not breathless and my heart rate is normal. The only cardio I do these days is a forty minute walk nearly every day. I am fitter than I have ever been and my body shape has changed. I have not lost weight or the layers of fat that normally lie beneath the surface of the skin on women, but the muscle tone beneath this layer is so toned up that I can actually fit into clothes I have not worn in a long while.

I will have to keep doing this form of training for the rest of my life just to keep me mobile and strong. I look upon it as a rehabilitation process which has now become a maintenance programme. We do not do repetitive exercises but continually challenge the body to go that little bit further. As the body has grown stronger, we have noticed that other aspects of exercise have been thrown up e.g. flexibility. This can be a good thing but in my case also a hindrance. We are now exploring ways of strengthening the tendons as well as the muscles. For others, flexibility is a great problem and I have watched Chris patiently train others to discover their own ways of improving that flexibility always aiming for full movement of joints and muscles without compromise.

Other things I have noticed I can now do without any problems:

  • Open lids on jars or bottles.
  • Do a lot of pruning without getting blisters on my hands (and my hands are not hardened or calloused from weight lifting!).
  • Squat comfortably down to kitchen cupboards.
  • Pick up heavy boxes correctly.
  • Walk much further with heavy shopping bags.
  • Awareness of how I walk and carry myself.
  • Awareness of how I carry the bags.
  • Awareness of how I sit at table, in an arm chair and how I stand from those positions.

Pauline now trains regularly, with excellent form, and can be seen demonstrating a few exercises in this video.

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