Motion Sensitivity

AKA - Car Sickness

By Haley Carter, PT

Have you ever had motion sickness in a car, train, plane, rollercoaster or bus? 

Let’s learn more about what it is and how vestibular physiotherapy can help! 

Motion Sickness vs. Visually Induced Motion Sickness (VIMS)

  • Motion Sickness = sickness from the physical motion of the person 
  • VIMS = sickness is triggered by something that you see in motion ie - watching an imax movie  

What are the criteria for diagnosis? 

  • Physical motion of the person or visual motion creates AT LEAST ONE of the following symptoms: Nausea &/or upset stomach, vomiting, burping, desire to move bowels, thermoregulatory disruption (overheating or being too cold), alterations in arousal, dizziness &/or vertigo, headache &/or eye strain 
  • Signs &/or symptoms occur during motion and build with prolonged exposure 
  • Signs &/or symptoms eventually stop when motion is stopped 
  • Signs &/or symptoms are not better accounted for by another disease or disorder 

Motion Sickness Signs & Symptoms 

  • Primary Signs: nausea & vomiting 
  • Other commonly related symptoms: stomach awareness, sweating & cold sweating,  dizziness, sensations of bodily warmth, drowsiness, headache, loss of appetite, increased sensitivity to smells 

What can provoke motion sickness? 

  • A wide range of stimuli & situations including: cars, tilting trains, planes, funfair rides, weightless in outer space, virtual reality, or simulators 

Causes & Reasons for Motion Sickness 

  • Sensory mismatch between the vestibular, visual and kinesthetic (sensory receptors- aka where we are in space) inputs
  • Sensory conflict often occurs between A) Visual and Vestibular Inputs and B) Mismatch between the Semicircular Canals & Otoliths.
  • That is to say, your visual system is telling your brain one thing, while your vestibular system is telling it something else. This mismatch can trigger motion sickness.

Who is more likely to get to Motion Sickness? 

  • Can be genetic (approx. 55-70% ) 
  • Women more affected than Men 
  • Women more likely to report vomiting with motion sickness 
  • Susceptibility for women varies within the menstrual cycle (often peaks with menstruation) 
  • Patients with vestibular pathology & disease (e.g. BPPV, vestibular neuritis, etc.) 
  • Associated with migraine & Meniere's disease 
  • Vestibular migraine especially susceptible to motion sickness 

How does Vestibular Rehab help? 

  • A vestibular PT helps create an individualized  program based on assessment findings that may include: progressive eye, head, full body movements (e.g. bending/turning) or walking exercises. 
  • Specific measures with motion sickness &/or visual vertigo to reduce hyper-sensitivity to visual motion. This helps by promoting desensitization & increase tolerance to visual stimuli 
  • Research has shown that patients benefit from gradual & repeated exercises to help reduce dizziness and motion sensitivity.

Read what one of our patients has to say about working with us for her motion sickness: 

“I found The Vertigo Therapist through a article my husband was reading. He was keen for me to inquire given how horrible of a passenger I am! I have lived with motion sickness my entire life with it worsening in the last 5 years. The severity was such that I would consider not attending events if there was a drive beyond 10 minutes involved. As I am often unsuccessful even with over the counter remedies, I thought it worth a shot to attempt getting at the root cause of my motion sickness. I was pleasantly surprised with the speed with which I could be seen and with the thorough assessment done through a user-friendly app. I have been diligent with the treatment plan following my online check ins and continued assessments and for the first time in my life have traveled without the use of medication. My journey will be ongoing but the progress in a matter of months is life-changing! Thanks so much! ~MM 

Does your motion sickness impact your desire to travel or ride that roller coaster with your kids? 


  • Bronstein, A. M., Golding, J. F., & Gresty, M. A. (2020). Visual vertigo, motion sickness, and disorientation in vehicles. Seminars in Neurology, 40(01), 116–129.

Vestibular rehabilitation: Use of accessible technology ... (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2022, from

Haley Carter, BHSc., MPT Vestibular Physiotherapist

Haley Carter completed her MPT at Ontario’s Western University and has since completed several courses in vestibular rehabilitation and attended the 2020 Vestibular Health Summit. Haley has completed the Introductory and Advanced Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy Courses and most recently the Certificate of Competency in Vestibular Rehabilitation course with Neuro 360.

Additionally, Haley also has a keen personal and professional interest in treating individuals following a concussion. She often treats individuals with longstanding/persistent post-concussion symptoms experiencing dizziness, vertigo and/or vestibular disorders. She has attended The Sport Physiotherapy Canada Concussion Symposium, and is currently taking The Athlete Brain Rehabilitation Course to better serve her concussion clients.