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Balance disorders following traumatic head injury

4th January 2013

Most of us take our balance function for granted, but it is a complicated system that uses vision, vestibular sense (the semicircular canals and otolith organs of the inner ear) and proprioception (joint/muscle sense).  In a recent seminar with Dr Surenthiran, Consultant Neuro-otologist (leader of the Balance Centre in the Neurosciences Unit at Medway Maritime Hospital) and Nicky Harris (specialist vestibular physiotherapist) we explored how balance disorders are often missed by both doctors and lawyers and the impact of this.

Our balance is normally automatic, but after a traumatic head injury the brain can have to work overtime to try to compensate for the injury; left untreated, a balance disorder can have disabling consequences, with symptoms such as dizziness, unsteadiness, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, nauseas, anxiety and sleep disturbance. 

Balance disorders are often missed in the noise of other injuries, which demand immediate treatment.  Left undiagnosed and untreated, they can be life changing; many patients are unable to work or self-care and relationships are strained and falter.  Such patients often develop a clinically significant psychological reaction and Dr Surenthiran runs the only multi-disciplinary balance clinic in England with input from a Consultant Psychiatrist.

It is commonly assumed that “mild” injuries such as whiplash, or a head injury without loss of consciousness, are unlikely to cause vestibular dysfunction, but this is incorrect.  There are over 350 different medically recognised causes of vertigo and trauma is commonly one of them.

Balance symptoms (such as dizziness, unsteadiness and vertigo) are treated by training the brain to compensate for the injury and treating the underlying cause of the dysfunction.  Vestibular rehabilitation is very specialist and getting the patient to the right team quickly is of vital importance; the faster treatment is implemented, the better the prognosis.

Claimants with untreated disorders are often problematical; medico-legal experts cannot provide a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment and the outlook is poor.  With the right intervention, their quality of life and function can be restored and their claim can progress smoothly through the legal process.

Steven and Sarah have niche experience in this area and are happy to discuss your training requirements.  A seminar on this topic will feature in the Hardwicke seminar series.

This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of Chambers or by Chambers as a whole.

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Sally Wollaston
Sally Wollaston
Business Development and Marketing Director
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