Tag Archive: swimming

Collateral damage

I’ve been thinking about the consequences of having vertigo.  In my head, I call this “collateral damage,” but that’s probably not the best term. It’s things like this:

  • I can no longer swim crawl stroke, and because I’m not vigorously turning my head to breathe during swim workouts, my neck is healthier, and I’ve triggered fewer headaches. (No, I do not have cervical vertigo.)

So this is a positive outcome of having vertigo. Yay! I’ve also blogged about how my quads have gotten stronger, not only because I was taking a spin class, but also because I was squatting and kneeling more instead of bending over.

Of course, there have been negative outcomes as well. In early January 2013 I injured my shoulder. It was incredibly painful to sleep on, so I slept more on my right side. Once the vertigo was in full force at the end of February, I had to stop sleeping on my right side because that was the “dizzy side.” My left side still hurt, so I was stuck on my back at night. This did not make my body happy, and my sleep quality was affected. Collateral damage.

I started physical therapy to resolve the shoulder issue, but the vertigo limited my ability to lay flat on a treatment table and also to turn my head while supine. The PT worked around those limitations, and I made some progress, but after a particularly disastrous vacation, I stopped PT to focus on treating the vertigo. Months later, when the vertigo reached the “chronic but manageable” phase, I returned to PT and fixed that shoulder once and for all. At that point a little dizziness was worth it to end the twelve months of intense discomfort and pain I had experienced.

There were also subtle effects on my relationship. I could no longer spoon my wife in bed. Even though she knew I had to avoid the dizzy side during treatment, the reality of turning my back to her every night felt standoffish to us both. We were surprised at how difficult it was to ignore that body language. And as I mentioned recently, my stress-reducing strategies like massage and yoga are contraindicated for vertigo, so I struggled to find new ways to relax and take care of myself.

What are the positive and negative outcomes of the condition or challenge you are facing?


Swim run brick

Yesterday I triggered the vertigo, and even though self treatment and sleeping up on two pillows seemed to solve the problem, my planned bike ride didn’t seem like a wise choice this morning. So for the first time since last season, I joined my friend and frequent training buddy at a local pond for a swim. All it took was a “You should do it” from my wife, and I was digging out my gear.

I haven’t swum in open water since the sprint triathlon I did last July, and I haven’t been in a pool for for at least three months. I wasn’t used to walking on sand, so I minced my way out and edged into the cold water. Turning my head to breathe was definitely contraindicated, so I used my snorkel and stuck to breaststroke and kicking drills. I definitely felt my triceps and hip flexors at first, but after I warmed up, I did about 20 minutes of easy swimming.

Afterward I was beaming! “Training Buddy” is preparing for an Olympic distance triathlon, so she headed out on her bike. I felt so good that I decided to do a short run and rack up my first brick in over a year. The swim had been a great warm up, so I ran easily. I was thrilled to be able to glance over my left shoulder to check for traffic at cross streets – this is one movement that has been problematic when the vertigo is active.

Everything was going well until my penultimate step. As I slowed down and pressed STOP on my watch timer, my left foot hit a partially buried rock, twisted outward, and sent me to the ground. I didn’t have much momentum so I didn’t slide, but I the gravelly path gave me some impressive road rash on my right shin and knee. The ankle hurt after I got home, so I started a regimen of anti-inflammatories and icing.



To be honest, I don’t think I have ever sprained my ankle. (I had to look up the treatment online!) On the occasions when my ankle has twisted, I’ve always been able to catch myself and have never fallen. This time, I was tired from doing a brick with very little training, and that probably contributed to my fall. Although it is tempting to wonder if the vertigo or inner ear hypofunction was a factor today, I think it wasn’t. I blame the damn rock in the path.

I am proud to have done the brick today. Kind of amazed, too, since I haven’t been training. I felt a little more like myself, experiencing the rhythm of training, and feeling pleased at how resilient and strong my body still is.

Swimming attempt

Back in February, I triggered more intense BPPV by doing a quick roll (not a flip) while swimming. I didn’t have symptoms right away, but the next day I felt nauseous all day, and the day after that I was so off kilter that I had to stay home from work. So until recently, I’ve been staying away from swimming.

Normally, at this time of year I would be training for a triathlon. It’s clear I won’t be racing at the start of the season this year, so I am eyeing some sprints in September. Thankfully, my Training Buddy and I got into the pool last December and swam together most weeks through the end of February. I’m glad we started swim training that early. I am ahead of the game for now!

After skipping March entirely, I tried swimming twice in April, figuring I could do the breaststroke and kicking drills without triggering the vertigo.  Honestly, knowing I could get disoriented in the water was a little concerning. I made sure Training Buddy was fully informed of my condition, and we shared a lane with me against the wall. I told her that if anything seemed the least bit odd about me or my swimming, she should call the life guard. My plan for limited head movement worked — I completed a short workout without any symptoms.

At my second workout, I decided to attempt crawl stroke. I discovered that I got vertigo when I turned my head to the left but not when I breathed to the  right, so I did a few lengths breathing to one side and called it a night. I don’t trust the vertigo to not appear on the current “safe” side while I’m in the pool, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that again. It seems too risky.

Breaststroke is not ideal in a triathlon, but still, I am wondering if I can use breaststroke if I stick to the edge of the pack. Something to think about. My race training has been turned on its head!

I spent April dealing with delays and mix-ups before finally getting a referral to see an otoneurologist next week. The self-treatment that my vestibular physcial therapist taught me when I had vertigo four years ago has helped to a point, but I simply can’t get the symptoms to stay away this time around. I’ve had some unusual symptoms that I didn’t have last time, and that is making me suspect that this case is more complicated and that I can’t treat it alone.

This past month I’ve gone swimming a few times with my Training Buddy — I’m staying away from crawl and backstroke. Training Buddy is doing a good job increasing her endurance in preparation for an Olympic distance triathlon, and I am jealous! I went rock climbing a few more times. Usually I would belay only, since climbing would trigger symptoms. One time I got up on the slack line and boy, did that make me feel sick!

Often I get through the day without any symptoms, but every single night I get sickening vertigo when I lie back on my pillow. Every. Single. Night. Makes a girl not want to go to bed! I grit my teeth, lie back, and hang on for the 15 seconds or so that it takes for the nystagmus to fatigue. If I roll over to the right, I have to get through another sickening round of vertigo before rest finally comes and I can relax.

When I do self treatment I follow the recommendations for sleeping up on 2-3 pillows and avoiding lying the “dizzy” (most symptomatic) side. Because my DHP have not been clear on which IS the dizzy(-est) side and because my self treatments aren’t working, I have by now tried every combination of left and right, pillows and no pillows. Nothing seems to fix the problem. I have fewer symptoms sleeping on my left side, but I injured my left shoulder back in January and sometimes it’s too uncomfortable to sleep on that side, anyway!

To make matters worse, my wife sleeps on the right side of the bed, which means that I’ve had my back to her for weeks. I miss spooning her. I am wondering when it is that I should start making changes. When do I switch to the other side of the bed? When do I cancel my yoga series and sign up for Tai Chi instead? When do I throw in the towel and put training wheels on my bike? Every time I think I might be getting better, I experience more symptoms.

The answer: next week I talk to the otoneurologist and get a game plan.