How to Get Land Legs Back When You Still Feel Rocking After a Cruise
I took a 3-day cruise to Mexico, and while the trip was fun, the dizziness, nausea, and intense rocking motion I felt back on land was a nightmare. I took motion sickness pills while on the ship, and it worked for 2 out of the 3 days. On the last day, I felt a bit woozy, but the feeling wasn't so terrible that I couldn't enjoy the activities on the ship or sleep through the night.
When we got back on land in the morning, I was ecstatic to be able to finally stand still. Several hours later, however, I felt like I was rocking back and forth as though I was still on the ship. The next 7 days were debilitating, and the rocking and wobbly feeling wouldn't go away. I found out that my condition was called mal de debarquement (or debarkation sickness)—a type of vertigo. The following are remedies and treatments that I personally tried to get my land legs back.
How to Get Rid of Mal de Debarquement After a Cruise
Walk, Jump, and Run
Walking, jumping, and running is the most effective treatment for relieving the horrible rocking sensation and the feeling of nausea. It also plays a huge role in rebalancing your inner ear and trains your brain to get used to moving on land.
Anytime I walked or jumped, I immediately felt "normal" again. As soon as I stopped and sat down, I would feel the room swaying back and forth. I took as many walks as I could around the neighborhood and tried doing jumping jacks as often as I felt up to it. There is no magic number of reps or a prescribed duration for these exercises. Just try to move around as much as you can and as often as you can. Don't push yourself if you are too tired because you might faint, but don't just sit or lie down all day either. Being sedentary will prolong vertigo and worsen symptoms.
Listen to Loud Music
As odd as this sounds, when I put on headphones and listened to music at the highest volume, my symptoms temporarily disappeared. I could sit down and eat a whole meal and wouldn't feel a single symptom so long as I had my headphones in. I believe the vibrations of the loud music allowed for a "sensory reset." It could be that a sensory overload jolts the brain into recalibrating. There is no definitive or even theoretical study done on the effects of loud music and inner ear rebalancing, but this trick actually really helped me! I highly recommend giving it a try.
I took frequent naps because of fatigue. If you feel a sudden need to sleep in the middle of the day, don't try to fight it. You need the sleep to help your body recover, and the 7 to 8 hour range recommended for a healthy person may not be enough when you're undergoing an energy-draining condition like vertigo.
You can try taking Valium or related medications, such as Klonapin, to help control dizziness and nausea, but these drugs will not get rid of the condition; they will only help alleviate symptoms. The results may differ from person to person. I took meclizine and dramamine, and they didn't help at all, so don't even bother with motion sickness drugs like Bonine, Antivert, etc.
I took magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. According to my doctor, these vitamins support neurological functions and strengthen blood vessels and nerves. I didn't feel any immediate effects or relief of symptoms, but they helped me recover because my health was pretty feeble due the chronic fatigue and loss of appetite.
Don't Forget to Eat
Food will help your body recover. Because you are nauseous, only eat things you really feel like eating. For the first few days, I ate a lot of Otter Pops, potstickers, and spaghetti because those were the only things I felt like eating. If you know you have low blood pressure, eat something high in salt, such as sausages or soy sauce. I also recommend drinking Gatorade or Powerade because these drinks contain sodium and electrolytes to help replenish energy.
Exercises to Get Rid Vertigo
The following exercises help your body get used to the confusing signals that are causing your vertigo and help rebalance the crystals in your ear. This may help you get over your vertigo sooner.
- Epley maneuver
I tried both of these exercises. They helped speed up my inner ear's rebalancing process. My favorite, and the one I thought was most effective, was the epley maneuver. I started these exercises when I stopped feeling nauseous, and each day, I could feel the vertigo becoming less and less severe.
Note: If you are experiencing severe nausea, do not perform these exercise. The range of movements may temporarily worsen symptoms. It is normal to feel dizzy when doing these exercises, but if you can stand it, my doctor says the dizziness will disappear after 30 to 60 seconds.
Re-exposure to motion, such as riding in a car, may temporarily relieve symptoms, but it is not recommended because your brain needs to adjust to being still on firm land.
How Long Does Land Sickness Last?
After a cruise or a long trip at sea, rocking motions usually last a few hours. Persistent symptoms can last for weeks but usually go away within a month. There have been some reports of this condition lasting for years.
Is Land Sickness a Real Condition?
Yes! The feeling of rocking, swaying, tilting, or overall imbalance after getting off a boat is known as mal de debarquement syndrome (disembarkment syndrome), also known as MDD or MDDS. It is a type of vertigo that is commonly reported by cruise ship voyagers.
Women in their 40s and 50s are more affected than any other group. According to the MDD foundation, 90% of sufferers are women.
What Causes Mal de Debarquement?
There are still conflicting theories and debates about what part of the body is responsible for causing the sensation of imbalance after a trip at sea, but doctors and researchers agree that land sickness occurs when you return to land after becoming too well adapted to the sensory environment on ship. In other words, your brain is stuck believing that the rocking motion at sea is normal and that being on land is disorientating.
According to neurologist Mingjia Dai, MDD occurs when your vestibulo-ocular reflex goes out of sync. This means that your inner ear detects one motion, but your eyes detect something else completely. When you're on a boat, you inner ear senses rocking back and forth, but your eyes don't see a moving horizon, so when your eyes and inner ears don't sense the same thing, your vestibular system gets confused and your brain compensates for that confusion by trying to accept it as normalcy.
Dr. Timothy Hain, a neurologist at Northwestern University and aeronautics engineer with credentials from MIT and NASA, posits a leading theory that mal de debarquement syndrome is not caused by an inner ear imbalance, but rather the brain's slow adjustment. He believes that the brain forms internal models to deal with an unusual environment. People with MDD don't surrender that model when they get back on land. This may explain why motion sickness drugs don't work because the ingredients in these drugs work to balance the vestibular system, not the brain.
Many dizziness experts also believe that MDD is a variant of migraine, which could explain why it is more common in women since migraines are also more prone to occur in females.
Symptoms of Mal de Debarquement
- Rocking or bobbing motion when sitting or standing still
- The sensation either disappears or lessens when walking or jumping
- Unbalanced gait (some people liken it to walking on a trampoline)
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Ringing in the ear (rare)
- Symptoms are less severe upon waking up but get worse at night
Symptoms usually last less than a month, but some suffer much longer. Mine lasted a week, but I didn't feel completely normal for two weeks.
How to Prevent Land Sickness
If you are prone to mal de debarquement, the best thing to do is to avoid going on long boat trips. If you must go, the following can help minimize symptoms, but there is no guarantee.
- Exercise during your cruise. Professional mariners swear that doing vigorous exercise on a ship will alleviate "land sickness."
- Get lots of sleep. Lack of sleep can contribute to feelings of dizziness.
- Drink lots of water. Dehydration can lead to drops in blood pressure, so stay hydrated.
- Eat more salt. If you have low blood pressure, like I do, drink Gatorade or any sports drink with sodium and electrolytes, and consume a diet with more salt while on the ship.
This information is not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. These are things that worked or didn’t work for me. You should consult your doctor for advice specific to your situation. If symptoms continue for more than 24 hours, go see your doctor for the best course of action.
- Timothy C. Hain, MD, "Mal de Debarquement (MDD)," American Hearing Research Foundation. October 2012. Accessed January 02, 2018.
- P.J. Haybach, R.N., M.S., "Mal de Debarquement," Vestibular Disorders Association. Accessed January 02, 2018.
- Charles W. Bryant, "What Is Landsickness," How Stuff Works. Accessed January 2, 2017.
- Eliza Strickland, "What to Do When Your Brain Insists You’re Always on a Boat," Nautilus. December 01, 2014. Accessed January 02, 2018.
- Will Charpentier, "How to Cure Vertigo After a Cruise Ship Vacation," USA Today. Accessed January 02, 2018.
- Suzanne R. Steinbaum, MD, "Understanding Low Blood Pressure -- Diagnosis and Treatment," February 20, 2017. Accessed January 02, 2018.
- Elizabeth Svoboda, "When Seasickness Persists After a Return to Solid Ground," New York Times. June 12, 2007. Accessed January 02, 2018.