August 24, 2017

Beating Vertigo – How Physical Therapy Gave a Burnsville Woman Her Life Back

By Robert A. Poarch

A retired cloth grader, 85-year-old Clara Harris has lived in Burnsville all of her life and suffered from dizziness since she was young. After visiting several doctors and still having dizzy spells, she was diagnosed with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo after meeting Sarah Osborne, DPT, a physical therapist at the Blue Ridge Fitness and Rehab Center.

“When I walked in, Sarah asked if I had a dizzy head,” said Harris. “And, she said ‘I can fix that.’”

Before Osborne’s help, Harris’s vertigo severely limited her life. As with many who suffer from positional vertigo, Harris didn’t feel comfortable leaving her home. “I missed one of my best friend’s funeral, because I was sick in the bed,” she said. “I felt really bad. I tried to explain to the family that I just couldn’t go.”

Osborne described severe vertigo like what Harris had as “having a strong sensation of spinning, especially with position changes, and having a poor sense of balance all the time.”

“It felt like I was falling and I couldn’t stop falling. And, you’re afraid you’re going to fall all of the time,” said Harris.

Osborne used a modified version of the Epley maneuver to treat Harris. Osborne turned Harris’s head to the side where the vertigo was the worst. Then, she laid the patient on her back with her head hanging off the edge of the table. Osborne gently moved Harris’s head in different positions, essentially realigning crystal debris in Harris’s inner ear that communicates balance to the brain, until the vertigo disappeared.

Osborne said, “I describe it to my patients as like the kid’s maze toy where you have to roll the marble in a hole. Once we get the marbles in the correct hole, the symptoms of vertigo go away.”

“The treatment is painless,” said Harris.

Most people get 80 to 90 percent healed with one treatment. “My goal is 100 percent improvement,” said Osborne. “Because even a small amount of debris will cause disequilibrium and poor balance. Because it’s fixable, my goal is to fix it.”

“It’s been wonderful, because Sarah’s helped me so much,” said Harris. “I’m able to do more things. I can drive and go to the store. Clara is back!”

Sarah Osborne, DPT, is a physical therapist with Mission Health’s Blue Ridge Fitness and Rehab Center in Burnsville.

Do you know the signs of vertigo? Is it more difficult for you to walk in the dark? Do you get a spinning sensation when you change positions in bed? Do you get carsick? To find out more, contact the Blue Ridge Fitness and Rehab Center in Burnsville at (828) 678-3488 or visit