Is vestibular rehabilitation effective in improving dizziness and function after unilateral peripheral vestibular hypofunction? An abridged version of a Cochrane Review

Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2016 Aug;52(4):541-56. Epub 2016 Jul 12.


Introduction: Unilateral peripheral vestibular dysfunction (UPVD) is characterized by complaints of dizziness, gaze disturbances and balance impairment. Current management includes medication, physical man oeuvres and exercise regimes, the latter known collectively as vestibular rehabilitation. The aim was to assess the effectiveness of vestibular rehabilitation in people with symptomatic UVPD.

Evidence acquisition: A systematic review was conducted for the population of adults diagnosed with symptomatic UPVD, living in the community. We searched all relevant databases and trials registers to identify randomized controlled trials comparing vestibular rehabilitation versus control (e.g. placebo), other treatment (non-vestibular rehabilitation, e.g. pharmacological) or another form of vestibular rehabilitation. We considered possible effectiveness in the domains of symptoms (dizziness) or function (activities, quality of life) and where possible combined results in meta-analyses to provide overall estimates of effect.

Evidence synthesis: We included 39 studies involving 2441 participants with UPVD in the review. Individual and pooled analyses of the primary outcome (frequency of dizziness) showed a statistically significant effect in favor of vestibular rehabilitation over control or no intervention (odds ratio (OR) 2.67, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.85 to 3.86). Secondary outcomes measures related to levels of activity or participation showed a strong trend towards significant differences between the groups (standardized mean difference -0.83, 95% CI -1.02 to -0.64). However when movement-based vestibular rehabilitation was compared to physical maneuvers 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 and risk of bias was generally low across the studies.

Conclusions: There is moderate to strong evidence that vestibular rehabilitation is a safe, effective management for UPVD. For the specific diagnostic group of BPPV, physical (repositioning) maneuvers 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.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Dizziness / diagnosis
  • Dizziness / rehabilitation*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Positioning
  • Postural Balance
  • Quality of Life*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vestibular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Vestibular Diseases / rehabilitation*