Exercises to try at home

Eye exercises can help alleviate vertigo. A doctor may recommend eye exercises as part of an extended therapy program that includes other types of physical therapy.

Vertigo is not a condition but a symptom of several potential underlying conditions.

When a person follows the recommendation of a doctor or health professional, eye exercises can provide safe and effective therapy for vertigo.

This article reviews different eye exercises that can alleviate vertigo, as well as other exercises and treatments that may help.

Vertigo involves the sensation of spinning. A person with vertigo may feel like they or their surroundings are moving or spinning.

There are two types of vertigo: peripheral and central.

According to a 2021 publication, 80% of vertigo cases are due to peripheral vertigo. This type is often the result of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which occurs when carbonate crystals in the ear become displaced.

Central vertigo accounts for the remaining 20% ​​of cases. This type of vertigo results from lesions on the brain stem or other issues that affect the brain.

Both multiple sclerosis and migraine can cause central vertigo.

Can eye exercises help?

Eye exercises make up part of a type of therapy called vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT). VRT can provide effective therapy for vertigo resulting from:

Eye exercises may work to alleviate vertigo because they help a person adjust and maintain balance.

Doing exercises that involve moving the eyes and head can help people adapt to these movements, training their bodies to adjust to vertigo triggers.

The hope is this will reduce vertigo as a person gets used to the movements over time.

However, a doctor will recommend different exercises depending on the underlying cause of vertigo.

A person should speak with a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any of these exercises as they could be ineffective or worsening vertigo, depending on the underlying conditions.

Several eye-related exercises may help a person improve their vertigo.

Before beginning any exercise program, a person should consult a physical therapist or doctor. They may have other recommendations or exercises they would like the person to practice.

The following exercises are part of a VRT program. A person should make sure to conduct the exercises in a safe and comfortable environment, as they could trigger dizziness.

It is best to start the exercises slowly, doing them for a few seconds and gradually increasing the time as a person adjusts to each exercise.

However, how long and how often a person should do these exercises based on the underlying cause of the vertigo. Therefore, a person should talk with a doctor about the following exercises before trying them.

Gaze stability

To do this exercise, a person should follow these steps:

  1. Sit down in a safe and comfortable environment.
  2. Extend one arm with the thumb raised. It should be directly in front of the person, not at an angle.
  3. Focus the eyes on the thumb and do not look away.
  4. With eyes fixed on the object, turn the head from left to right.

Pursuit

This exercise involves keeping the head still while moving the eyes.

To do this exercise, a person should:

  1. Extend one arm forward with the thumb raised.
  2. Focus the eyes on the thumb.
  3. Move the thumb slowly from side to side, keeping the eyes fixed on it.

Saccade

This exercise involves keeping the head still and moving the eyes quickly.

To conduct this exercise, a person can:

  1. Place two objects on a horizontal surface, for example, two cups on a table. The objects should be level with the person’s line of sight and close enough together that a person can see both without turning their head.
  2. Focus the eyes on one of the objects.
  3. Quickly move the eyes to the other object, keeping the head still.
  4. Repeat these movements several times, looking back and forth at each object.

Saccade and vestibulo-ocular reflex

To do this exercise, a person should:

  1. Place two horizontal objects within the line of sight, for example, two outstretched arms with the thumbs raised.
  2. Look at one of the thumbs, with the head angled toward it.
  3. Keeping the head still, move the eyes to look at the second thumb.
  4. Turn the head slowly toward the second thumb.
  5. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  6. Repeat in both directions several times.

Imagery pursuit

To follow this exercise, a person should:

  1. Place a clear object at eye level, such as the letter E written on a note stuck to a wall.
  2. Focus the eyes on the E, making sure the head is in line with it.
  3. Close the eyes.
  4. Slowly turn the head away from the object, imagining that the eyes are still looking at it.
  5. Open the eyes and check whether the E is still in focus.
  6. If the E is not in focus, adjust the gaze until it is.
  7. Repeat this exercise several times in each direction.

Several other exercises can help with treating vertigo. The following are two examples of exercises that may effectively treat vertigo associated with BPPV.

A person should talk with their doctor or therapist before starting any new exercises. They should follow their treatment recommendations.

Epley maneuver

This is a canalith repositioning exercise that may help treat BPPV.

To conduct this exercise, a person can follow these steps:

  1. Sit upright on the edge of a bed.
  2. Turn the head approximately 45 degrees to the right.
  3. Lie down quickly on the left side.
  4. Keep this position for 30 seconds.
  5. Then turn the head 45 degrees to the left.
  6. Stay in this position for 30 seconds.
  7. Turn the head and body 90 degrees to the left.
  8. Keep this position for 30 seconds.
  9. Slowly sit up.

A person should repeat the same movement on the opposite side. This means they would face the left at the beginning.

A person can perform this exercise up to three times per day.

Learn more about the Epley maneuver with a step-by-step video guide.

Half somersault maneuver

The half somersault maneuver (HSM) is also known as the Foster maneuver. A 2021 study found that the HSM was more effective in treating BPPV than the Epley maneuver.

To conduct this exercise, a person should:

  1. Kneel on the floor.
  2. Quickly tip the head upward and back.
  3. Assume the somersault position. To do this, a person should tuck the chin as far as possible toward the knees.
  4. Turn the head approximately 45 degrees toward the right shoulder so it is facing the right elbow.
  5. Then, keeping the head at 45 degrees, raise the head back up to a shoulder level.
  6. Eventually, the head is back in the fully upright position, still at 45 degrees.

A person may feel dizzy between the steps. If this happens, they should allow the dizziness to subside before going to the next step. Each position should be held for 15 seconds if there is no dizziness.

Learn more

Learn about other exercises that can alleviate vertigo.

In addition to exercises, a doctor may recommend other treatments for vertigo.

Experts have found that certain medications can help with vertigo, such as antihistamines, benzodiazepines, and antiemetics. A doctor may recommend a combination of medication and exercises or may prescribe one or the other.

For some causes of vertigo, a person may find that dietary changes help. For example, a person living with Ménière’s disease may find that reducing their intake of salt, alcohol, and caffeine may help.

With treatment, a person should find that their vertigo improves over time. However, it is possible for symptoms to return.

For example, about 50% of people living with BPPV experience a relapse within 5 years. Also, about one-third of people who experience vertigo from anxiety will still experience symptoms after 1 year.

If vertigo is a symptom of an underlying condition, treating the condition should help to alleviate or eliminate vertigo.

A person should talk with a doctor to determine the underlying cause and find out how they can treat it.

Eye exercises may help people improve their vertigo when paired with head movements. Additionally, several other exercises, such as the Epley maneuver and the half somersault maneuver, can help a person alleviate vertigo.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend medication and lifestyle changes to help alleviate or eliminate vertigo.

Most people should see at least some improvement in their vertigo following treatment, though it is possible to experience a return of symptoms after some time.

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