Motion Sickness Pilot Program

Motion and flight sickness is a common problem for both civilians and pilots. Studies have shown the incidence of flight sickness in military personnel to be fairly common, and potentially disruptive. (3,6). Many countries with Air Force personnel have some sort of rehabilitation program for their pilots with flight or simulator sickness. (1,2,4,5.) The documented recovery or return to flight rate for these rehabilitation programs is between 70-88%. (1, 2) The National Dizzy and Balance Center has designed a desensitization program to help civilian, commercial, and military pilots overcome the motion sickness and return to flight duty.

The cause of flight or simulator sickness can vary from individual to individual. Frequently it is caused by a sensory mis-match: the sense that one is moving more, less or in a different direction than what is actually occurring. This mismatch causes the symptoms of motion sickness: fatigue, nausea and vomiting, headache and confusion. There may in addition be a vestibular (inner ear) pathology that contributes to the symptoms. There is some documentation and research that suggests certain individuals are more sensitive to acquiring motion sickness than others. Motion sickness can be quite disabling, especially if one operates a moving vehicle, boat or aircraft for a living.

The good news is that you can desensitize yourself to the symptoms. (7) The National Dizzy and Balance Center has developed a series of exercises to directly address the symptoms of motion sickness and the causes of the sensory mismatch. Your therapist will determine the appropriate starting point for your program and assist you in progressing through the phases of the exercises. You will do most of the work independently, with occasional phone or email check-ins with your therapist. It may occasionally be necessary for you to return to NDBC for additional testing if required by your employer, or if you need specific assistance with progressing through the phases of the program. You may feel worse for a few weeks before you begin to feel better! This is a normal part of the desensitization process and occurs because the exercises challenge your balance systems to recalibrate themselves.

If you have experienced prolonged motion sickness while in a simulator, or while flying, our program may be of benefit for you. Please call our clinic and ask to speak to a physical therapist, and we would be glad to see if we can help you.

NDBC Motion Intolerance Aviation Program

Reference List:

  1. Lucertini M, Lugli V. The Italian air force rehabilitation programme for air –sickness. Acta Ororhinolaryngology Italia. 2004; 24:181-7.
  2. Bagshaw M, Stott JRR. The desensitization of chronically motion sick aircrew in the Royal Air Force. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 1985; 56:1144-51.
  3. Ungs, TJ. Simulator induced syndrome: evidence for long-term aftereffects. 1989; 60:252-5.
  4. Giles, DA, Lochridge GK. Behavioral management program for student pilots. Aviation, Space and Environmental Medicine. 1985; 56:991-4.
  5. Banks, RD, Salisbury D, Ceresia PJ. The Canadian forces airsickness rehabilitation program, 1981-1991. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 1992; 63:1098-101.
  6. Crowley, JS. Simulator sickness: a problem for Army aviation. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 1987; 58:355-7
  7. Rine RM, Shucbert MC, Balkany, TJ. Visual-vestibular habituation and balance training for motion sickness. Physical Therapy. 1999; 79:949-957.