Background: Vibration to the head or neck excites vestibular and neck muscle spindle afferents. Can such vibrations improve the sensitivity of the subjective visual horizontal (SVH) test to chronic unilateral deficit of the vestibular system?
Design: Controlled experimental study.
Setting: Tertiary referral center.
Patients and controls: Thirteen healthy subjects and 23 patients with chronic unilateral vestibular deficits after vestibular neurectomy or neurolabyrinthitis. Results of head-impulse test showed unilateral loss of function of all 3 semicircular canals in 14 patients and loss of anterior and lateral semicircular canals in 9 patients.
Intervention: Unilateral vibration (92 Hz; 0.6-mm amplitude) applied to sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) or mastoid bone.
Main outcome measure: Results of SVH test (in degrees).
Results: Without vibration, 13 of 23 patients and all healthy subjects had SVH of less than 3 degrees (sensitivity, 43%; specificity, 100%). During vibration to the ipsilesional SCM, SVH increased to greater than 3 degrees in 21 of 23 patients but in only 1 of 13 healthy subjects (sensitivity, 91%; specificity, 92%). The patient group had significantly greater SVH shifts to the ipsilesional side than did healthy subjects in response to SCM and mastoid bone vibration on either side. The SVH shift during vibration to the ipsilesional SCM was significantly greater than that during vibration to the contralesional muscle (P<.001) or to the mastoid bone on either side (P<.05). The vibration-induced SVH shift was significantly greater in those patients with loss of 3 semicircular canals than in those with loss of 2 (P<.01).
Conclusions: The sensitivity of the SVH test to chronic unilateral vestibular deficits can be improved by applying vibration to the SCM. The magnitude of vibratory SVH shift is related to the extent of unilateral deficit of the otolithic organs, vertical canals, or both.