Home-based Vestibular Rehabilitation and Balance Retraining Exercises
This information is intended as a general introduction to this topic. As each person is affected differently by balance and dizziness problems, speak with your health care professional for individual advice.
Vestibular rehabilitation is most effective when you follow a set of exercises tailored by a therapist to your specific needs. If you are unable to access a therapist, however, a number of exercises can be done at home. As well as specific balance and dizziness-related exercises, keeping physically active will help promote your recovery and overall health.
You only need to do a few repetitions of these exercises to see improvement. It is very important to rest between sets and let your symptoms go back to the level they were before starting the exercise.
If you are motion sensitive, start by doing tiny doses of movements that make you feel nauseated. For example, move your head back and forth for just 30 seconds. Then push yourself for 1 or 2 seconds longer and give your brain a chance to overcome the feeling of nausea.
If you feel off balance after doing an exercise, sit down and take a break to help prevent a fall.
Before you start:
- Always check with your healthcare team before starting any new activity.
- Start slowly – while it is important to challenge yourself, take care to exercise within your physical limits. Start with just a few repetitions of one or two exercises. When you can do them easily and comfortably, gradually increase the range of different exercises as well as the number of repetitions.
- Use support for standing exercises. At first, rest your hands on a counter top or sturdy table for support. Gradually decrease the amount of support as your balance improves.
- Wear suitable footwear – shoes with a low broad heel and a non-slip sole, such as running shoes, are a good choice. Avoid wearing slippers, sandals or socks.
- Listen to your body – if an exercise causes more pain, shortness of breath, or makes you feel as though you might fall, stop at once. Talk to your healthcare team before repeating the exercise.
Vestibular rehabilitation exercises to try at home
BC Balance and Dizziness has made a 35-minute video of vestibular rehabilitation exercises for people with balance and dizziness disorders. They can be done at home with no special equipment. Instructor Pauline Martin is a physiotherapist who specializes in treating vestibular disorders. Buy Gaining Balance either as a downloadable MP4 file or as a DVD.
These exercises were developed to help compensate a stable vestibular loss in one ear (unilateral) such as after acoustic neuroma surgery, vestibular neuritis, labyrinthitis or advanced stage (burn-out) Ménière’s disease. They are also helpful for the dizziness that follows concussion.
Home-based balance retraining exercises
To be effective, balance-specific exercises should be done for 15-20 minutes every day and in addition to other vestibular rehabilitation or physical activity. Balance exercises can be broken up and done anywhere in short spurts throughout the day – a training effect builds up the more you practice, even just for a few seconds at a time. Challenge your balance throughout the day. When making a cup of tea or waiting for the elevator, for example, stand in tandem (one foot in front of the other) or stand on one leg.
Examples of two types of balance exercises to try on your own:
Static balance exercises:
On a firm surface, then later on a foam surface, try to:
- stand with feet apart, then together, then in tandem (one foot behind the other)
- stand in tandem, then on one foot
Once you are able, try repeating the above exercises while tossing a tennis ball between your hands or with your eyes closed.
Dynamic balance exercises:
- walk while turning your head side to side
- walk while nodding your head up and down
- walk while keeping your eyes focused on an object
- walk backwards
- walk with your eyes closed
Balance equipment to try (take care with these)
The unstable surface of a BOSU ball (both sides utilized) forces using your core muscles to stay upright. As you keep trying to stand on a BOSU ball, you will eventually be able to keep your balance for longer periods of time.
Use of a balance (wobble) or rocker board can help retrain your balance. Balance boards have a dome-shaped base which lets you tip and tilt the board 360 degrees. If the 360 degree movement is too challenging at first, consider using a rocker board. Rocker boards only allow tilting movement back and forth making them much easier to control. Stand on the board, feet shoulder-width apart, abdominal muscles tight and rock back and forth for a minute at a time without letting the edges of the board touch the floor. Hold onto a support if necessary. Gradually increase your time.
Most gyms have balance boards and BOSU balls. If you have no access to a gym and don’t want to buy a BOSU ball or balance board, try standing on a pillow or cushion.
While no studies have specifically investigated the effectiveness of Nintendo’s Wii Fit Plus virtual balance board in people with vestibular or balance disorders, balance improvement in people with multiple disabilities has been demonstrated.
The following can offer more help and support for affected individuals and their families.
Balance Retraining [PDF]
Download a booklet of exercises designed to speed recovery from dizziness and unsteadiness. Produced by the Ménière's Society in the UK.
With a flat platform on one side and a rubber dome on the other, this exercise tool adds an element of instability to your workouts, forcing you to use your core to stay steady.
This interactive iPhone or iPad app challenges users to improve their balance and stability through a series of progressive movement “games.”
SAIL (Strategies and Actions for Independent Living) Home Activity Program
Download PDFs of three different levels of exercises developed by Interior Health.
Wii Fit Plus
Nintendo's Wii Fit Plus combines fun and fitness into one product. It can change how you exercise, how you balance, and even how you move.
Page updated September, 2019.