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How to Become a Vestibular Physiotherapist
By: Kregg Ochitwa (BScPT, CWCE, CredMDT) ; Editor: Nataliya Zlotnikov MSC, HBsc

Vestibular Physiotherapy Is on the Rise 

If you are considering becoming a vestibular physiotherapist, you are not alone. This is an exciting area to get into as it is a relatively new field in rehabilitation sciences and has seen a rapid, steady growth. 

 

This growth is due to several factors including:

  • The recent advances in our understanding of the vestibular system and how vestibular therapy can have a major impact on one’s quality of life.
  • The increased learning opportunities available, whether it be weekend courses, online courses, webinars or podcasts.
  • The increased demand for this service as the public becomes more aware of its benefits.
  • Therapists finding this a rewarding field to work in.

If you are wondering what a vestibular physiotherapist does, they assist patients who have an impairment with their vestibular system. 

 

Vestibular System Review 

To review, the vestibular system is made up of sensory organs (lower extremities, neck, eyes, and inner ears), along with the brain that processes the input from these organs, and the resultant motor output.

Image of the ear



The motor output allows us to stay upright and keep our vision in focus while our head is moving, amongst other things. 

We usually do not realize that we have this system until something affects it, causing us to feel dizzy and/or unsteady.



Causes of Vestibular System Impairments

Impairments to the vestibular system can be due to a variety of conditions such as inner problems like BPPV, inner ear infections, and Meniere’s disease. Conditions affecting the brain such as concussions, migraines, tumours, and strokes can also cause vestibular problems.

In this blog, Kregg Ochitwa will outline how you can become a vestibular physiotherapist.

 

Why Choose Vestibular Physiotherapy?

Vestibular physiotherapy is a growing field ideal for the lifelong learner, who likes to challenge themselves and make an impact on the quality of life for those in their community.



What Is Vestibular Physiotherapy?

Vestibular physiotherapy is therapy provided by a physiotherapist trained in treating balance and dizziness disorders. 

Balance disorders are assessed and treated by prescribing appropriate balance exercises, treating any dizziness, and/or determining if the use of ambulatory aides is appropriate. 

Complaints of dizziness, if arising from the vestibular system may be treated with canalith positioning techniques, specific exercises, dietary guidelines, and education. 

The specific treatment will depend on the cause and may require a multidisciplinary approach.

 

 

How to Become a Vestibular Physiotherapist

To become a vestibular therapist it is important to know that the title “vestibular physiotherapist” is not a protected term like “sports physiotherapist”. So, whether it is right or wrong, any physiotherapist can call themselves a vestibular therapist, regardless of their level of training and experience.

Also, despite courses stating you are “certified” after taking their course, there are no official certifications that are approved by any college or professional physiotherapy association.

So, with all of that being said where does the journey start in the process of becoming a

vestibular physiotherapist? The good news is that over the past few years physiotherapy schools have started to add an introductory course into their programs. 

The level of training may vary from school to school, but if a new grad or an experienced therapist would like training in this field there is an ever-increasing number of options.

 

We often get asked by therapists, “How should I get trained?”, or “Where should I start?” 

The answer - by taking a weekend introductory or foundational course, an online intro course, or a hybrid intro course. After taking a weekend course, like any other course, it is good to see patients in this population. Then, if you can find a mentor and take further courses that is ideal. There is a growing number of great courses out there. 

A course we recommend after taking an introductory course and seeing some patients is the multi-day competency based Vestibular Rehabilitation course offered at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. This course ensures that all who have taken it and passed all of the requirements have a good fundamental knowledge of how to assess and manage vestibular conditions.

 

The learning doesn’t stop

The learning does not stop though with this or any other similar course. Vestibular therapy touches so many patient populations so there are more ongoing courses that you can take. Examples of vestibular special populations include concussion/TBI management, paediatrics, fall prevention, and amputation.

The bottom line is that vestibular physiotherapy (like all areas of physiotherapy)  is an educational journey. 

Vestibular physiotherapy quote

This is really no different than with MSK courses. Taking one MSK course may give you a good foundation, but you have to continue taking courses to help broaden your understanding. Also, with time our general understanding of best practices changes and we should attempt to keep up to date with the latest treatment guidelines.



Learn more about the different types of jobs available as a vestibular physiotherapist!

As mentioned previously, patients with vestibular problems are extremely diverse. They can range from children to seniors. It can also be the person who is dizzy from inactivity to the athlete with a concussion. So where you work can be diverse as well.

Here are some of the places that you may work with patients having vestibular conditions:

  • Private practice clinic dealing with BPPV, inner ear infections, migraines, concussions, fall prevention, etc.
  • Sports medicine clinic and seeing those with concussions.
  • Rehabilitation ward at a hospital with those who had a head injury, stroke, Parkinson’s, amputation, post-op ear or brain surgery, etc.
  • Multidisciplinary clinics with audiologists, otolaryngologists, neurologists, occupational therapists, psychologists and neuropsychologists.
  • Seniors homes.
  • Rural clinic or hospital.
  • Hospital and triaging patients with dizziness in the emergency department.
  • Working with patients remotely through Telehealth.
  • Doing research.

 

Conclusion

If you want to work with a patient population where there is a unique blend of musculoskeletal and neurology, and you can work in a specific or wide range of settings, vestibular physiotherapy may be for you. Vestibular physiotherapy can provide a major impact on your patient’s quality of life and there is always something new to learn. 

It is a very rewarding field to work in. 

 

If you would like to start or expand your vestibular education, you can get started with one (or several) of my online courses available on Embodia. These courses can be taken anytime, anywhere and at your own pace and schedule:

Kregg Ochitwa
BScPT, CWCE, CredMDT

Kregg has been a registered physical therapist since 1995. Over the years his caseload has shifted from solely orthopedic to a mix of orthopedic and vestibular. With this background he has also established a reputation for treating concussion, having treated athletes in the NFL, CFL, college ranks, WHL, high school athletes, and the weekend warrior.

In 1998, he took his first course in the field of vestibular rehabilitation. In 2008, he completed all of the requirements of the Vestibular Rehabilitation: a competency based course at Emory University, Atlanta Georgia. Since then he has continued to take ongoing courses throughout North America in regards to orthopedics, traumatic brain injury, and vestibular therapy. He has also been asked to teach weekend courses and present at various conferences throughout North America and Europe.

In 2010, Kregg opened North 49 Physical Therapy in his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The clinic has since grown from a staff of one to seven physical therapists, where over half of the caseload consists of patients with dizziness and/or balance issues.

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