Vestibular rehabilitation to improve dizziness, balance and mobility in patients with unilateral peripheral vestibular dysfunction


People with vestibular problems often experience dizziness and trouble with vision, balance or mobility. The vestibular disorders that are called unilateral and peripheral (UPVD) are those that affect one side of the vestibular system (unilateral) and only the portion of the system that is outside of the brain (peripheral - part of the inner ear). Examples of these disorders include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuritis, labyrinthitis, one-sided Ménière's disease or vestibular problems following surgical procedures such as labyrinthectomy or removal of an acoustic neuroma. Vestibular rehabilitation for these disorders is becoming increasingly used and involves various movement-based regimes. Components of vestibular rehabilitation may involve learning to bring on the symptoms to 'desensitise' the vestibular system, learning to co-ordinate eye and head movements, improving balance and walking skills, and learning about the condition and how to cope or become more active.

Study characteristics

We found 39 randomised controlled trials (involving 2441 participants) that investigated the use of vestibular rehabilitation in this group of disorders. All studies used a form of vestibular rehabilitation and involved adults who lived in the community with symptomatic, confirmed UPVD. The studies were varied in that they compared vestibular rehabilitation with other forms of management (for example, medication, usual care or passive manoeuvres), with control or placebo interventions or with other forms of vestibular rehabilitation. Another source of variation between studies was the use of different outcome measures (for example, reports of dizziness, improvements in balance, vision or walking, or ability to participate in daily life).

Key results

Due to the variation between studies, only limited pooling (combining) of data was possible. The results of four studies could be combined, which demonstrated that vestibular rehabilitation was more effective than control or sham interventions in improving subjective reports of dizziness, and in improving participation in life roles. Two studies gave a combined result in favour of vestibular rehabilitation for improving walking. Other single studies all found in favour of vestibular rehabilitation for improvements in areas such as balance, vision and activities of daily living. The exception to these findings was for the specific group of people with BPPV, where comparisons of vestibular rehabilitation with specific physical repositioning manoeuvres showed that these manoeuvres were more effective in dizziness symptom reduction, particularly in the short term. However, other studies demonstrated that combining the manoeuvres with vestibular rehabilitation was effective in improving functional recovery in the longer term. There were no reports of adverse effects following any vestibular rehabilitation. In the studies with a follow-up assessment (3 to 12 months) positive effects were maintained. There was no evidence that one form of vestibular rehabilitation is superior to another. There is a growing and consistent body of evidence to support the use of vestibular rehabilitation for people with dizziness and functional loss as a result of UPVD.

Quality of the evidence

The studies were generally of moderate to high quality but were varied in their methods. This evidence is up to date to 18 January 2014.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is moderate to strong evidence that vestibular rehabilitation is a safe, effective management for unilateral peripheral vestibular dysfunction, based on a number of high-quality randomised controlled trials. There is moderate evidence that vestibular rehabilitation resolves symptoms and improves functioning in the medium term. However, there is evidence that for the specific diagnostic group of BPPV, physical (repositioning) manoeuvres are more effective in the short term than exercise-based vestibular rehabilitation; although a combination of the two is effective for longer-term functional recovery. There is insufficient evidence to discriminate between differing forms of vestibular rehabilitation.

Read the full abstract...

This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in The Cochrane Library in Issue 4, 2007 and previously updated in 2011.

Unilateral peripheral vestibular dysfunction (UPVD) can occur as a result of disease, trauma or postoperatively. The dysfunction is characterised by complaints of dizziness, visual or gaze disturbances and balance impairment. Current management includes medication, physical manoeuvres and exercise regimes, the latter known collectively as vestibular rehabilitation.


To assess the effectiveness of vestibular rehabilitation in the adult, community-dwelling population of people with symptomatic unilateral peripheral vestibular dysfunction.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders Group Trials Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); PubMed; EMBASE; CINAHL; Web of Science; BIOSIS Previews; Cambridge Scientific Abstracts; ISRCTN and additional sources for published and unpublished trials. The most recent search was 18 January 2014.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials of adults living in the community, diagnosed with symptomatic unilateral peripheral vestibular dysfunction. We sought comparisons of vestibular rehabilitation versus control (e.g. placebo), other treatment (non-vestibular rehabilitation, e.g. pharmacological) or another form of vestibular rehabilitation. Our primary outcome measure was change in the specified symptomatology (for example, proportion with dizziness resolved, frequency or severity of dizziness). Secondary outcomes were measures of function, quality of life and/or measure(s) of physiological status, where reproducibility has been confirmed and shown to be relevant or related to health status (for example, posturography), and adverse effects

Data collection and analysis: 

We used the standard methodological procedures expected by The Cochrane Collaboration.

Main results: 

We included 39 studies involving 2441 participants with unilateral peripheral vestibular disorders in the review. Trials addressed the effectiveness of vestibular rehabilitation against control/sham interventions, medical interventions or other forms of vestibular rehabilitation. Non-blinding of outcome assessors and selective reporting were threats that may have biased the results in 25% of studies, but otherwise there was a low risk of selection or attrition bias.

Individual and pooled analyses of the primary outcome, frequency of dizziness, showed a statistically significant effect in favour of vestibular rehabilitation over control or no intervention (odds ratio (OR) 2.67, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.85 to 3.86; four studies, 565 participants). Secondary outcomes measures related to levels of activity or participation measured, for example, with the Dizziness Handicap Inventory, which also showed a strong trend towards significant differences between the groups (standardised mean difference (SMD) -0.83, 95% CI -1.02 to -0.64). The exception to this was when movement-based vestibular rehabilitation was compared to physical manoeuvres for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), where the latter was shown to be superior in cure rate in the short term (OR 0.19, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.49). There were no reported adverse effects.

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