Dr. Kim Bell, DPT is an especially dedicated vestibular physical therapist and that’s because she’s experienced the disorienting symptoms her patients are going through firsthand.
Dr. Bell began working as a physical therapist in 2002 and has been specializing in dizziness, vertigo, balance problems and falls since 2006.
She opened her own practice six years ago and even developed her own method, called “the Bell Method,” after resolving her own 25-year struggle with vertigo.
“I had fallen off a swing and fallen off a sled when I was a kid and my mom told me that’s when I started getting dizzy spells,” Dr. Bell said. “She would take me to the emergency room when I was throwing up but nobody ever figured out why I had these problems. I went to so many (doctors and specialists) and nobody helped me. It’s the worst feeling to just be like, ‘Who’s going to help me’?”
Bell said she tried many different medications during her decades-long intermittent problems with dizziness but none of them helped. She said one day she finally decided to take on responsibility for her own case and ended up figuring out how to resolve her symptoms.
“I was about 35 years old at that point and I said, ‘This is my mission now, I’m going to start this practice and go rescue other people like me who are being misunderstood and mismanaged and help them get their lives back,” the now 41-year-old said.
Dr. Bell said vertigo, dizziness and balance issues can be triggered by external factors, such as a head injury or concussion as a result of an accident or a fall. She said symptoms can also come on spontaneously.
“You have people that didn’t even hit their head but they just woke up with vertigo one morning,” she said. “And all of sudden they just feel like somebody took their house and flipped it upside down. They can’t orient themselves so they bump into the walls or fall. It’s terrible!”
Dr. Bell says it can be a scary experience because most people do not know the root cause of their discomfort or have been told there is nothing they can do. The most common thing she treats are inner ear conditions that affect the equilibrium, which includes a condition called BPPV, which are basically crystals in your ear that get knocked out of place and cause positional vertigo. She said many patients come to her with a diagnosis of Ménière’s disease, which is fluid build-up that causes excessive pressure in the ear, but she finds that the majority of them don’t actually have it, and it is commonly misdiagnosed.
“It is commonly over diagnosed,” she said. “Many people I meet tell me they were diagnosed as having Ménière’s disease when I evaluate them I can tell you they don’t appear to have that. Most of them have these crystals that I can resolve. Therefore, I recommend seeking another opinion about Ménière’s disease.”
Dr. Bell said her method involves looking at the whole person to figure out the big picture of what’s happening with them.
“I’m looking at the emotional component, their vision, their brain function, their ears, their feet, their coordination, their inner ear, the heart, and more,” she said. “That’s different than a traditional vestibular physical therapist that might use tunnel vision and only look at your inner ear. That’s why so many patients have to go from one doctor to the next to the next because most are just using tunnel vision and looking at whatever they specialize in.”
Dr. Bell, who makes house calls since people with balance and dizziness issues often have a hard time traveling, said she typically resolves people’s cases in two to four visits.
She said her aim is to offer people hope and encouragement.
“In most cases I tell my patients you are going to recover from this, 100 percent, and I’m going to make sure of it,” she said.
To learn more about Dr. Kim Bell, DPT visit online at betterbalanceinlife.com or call (760) 652-9993.