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Specialty care increasing at PHH

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BALANCE: Physical Therapist Molly Sittler uses a balance board to help in the rehabilitationprocess. There is a curved bottom to the board, which forces the patient to shift their weight to remain level.
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WORK: Sittler demonstratesan exercise thathelps to fix the fluid imbalances in the inner ear, which control our sense of balance.

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

With construction underway, Parkview Huntington Hospital is working to provide a new space for an expanded rehab and wellness center, which will house new services including vestibular rehab.

PHH Physical Therapist Molly Sittler explained that this type of rehab is essentially therapy for inner-ear problems such as dizziness and nausea caused by issues ranging from strokes to concussions, or pre-existing illnesses.

Possible causes of vestibular issues include a disorder of the vestibular system, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, Labyrinthitis, Ménière’s disease, a stroke, concussion or head trauma or motion sickness that does not resolve.

The hospital is already offering vestibular rehab before the recent plans for expansion, which will be finished around mid-spring of 2019. The expansion will include additional space for specialty equipment that will help physical therapists better serve their patients, which patients used to have to drive to Fort Wayne hospitals and clinics to use in the past. 

Sittler said PHH has always offered balance training, but the expansion will help build the vestibular department to serve more people. She added that they work closely with Huntington North High School and Huntington University students, as they’ve begun raising awareness that vestibular rehab isn’t just for elderly patients, since athletes there might need treatment for concussions. All of which also goes hand-in-hand with vestibular symptoms.

Now that the hospital has begun introducing this specialty rehab locally, Sittler was able to take a vestibular base course for hands-on treatment this past July, equipping her with what she needs to begin assisting patients in combating vestibular issues.

Oftentimes, Sittler said people aren’t even aware that what they are experiencing is a result of vestibular issues which can be resolved.

“I feel like that’s not very well known. We have people all the time who are just dizzy constantly or when they get a head cold they can’t figure out why they’re bed ridden for three days because the room just spins,” she explained.

This particular type of therapy is available through referral from a physician. Though they will not receive new equipment until after the expansion is complete, Sittler said they can help people now with exercises and positioning. 

Though vestibular rehab would look differently for each person depending on what their needs are, Sittler explained that it begins with an initial evaluation to try to get to the root of the problem followed by slowly added maneuvers or exercises to try to “reset the system.”

Sittler said the process of getting the fluids in the inner ear back to normal levels can induce flare ups which potentially cause the patient to initially feel worse, but she said that after 24-48 hours of possible increased discomfort, the patient should start to see improvement as the brain adjusts to the therapy and the fluids going back to normal. 

“The exercises start off really basic, it might be looking from point A to point B 30 times, changing that direction, eventually adding in head movements so using our eyes and our head at the same time and then eventually doing those in different body positions,” Sittler said.

This includes doing the exercise while sitting, standing, doing it while reaching, while standing on foam etc.

“Little things at a time to try to mimic everyday life so that when you go to the grocery store and you’re scanning the aisles you’re not getting dizzy or when you’re in your pantry you can bend down to the floor and get the cereal and you can reach up and get something else and you don’t have to wait for that attack to end,” she said.

Aside from improving symptoms, Sittler said another benefit to treating the symptoms is overall safety. She said once the brain, eyes and rest of the body are more connected and responsive, safety will not only improve for now but down the road as well.

“We want to raise awareness about vestibular rehab as one of many therapies we currently offer,” she said. “Because it truly can benefit people who might be thinking they just have to put up with certain unpleasant symptoms.”