BRANDON — We may never know if Lightning wing Mattias Ritola actually had, or has, Meniere's disease.
There are no tests that indicate it, head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said, so any diagnosis is one of exclusion, in which other afflictions are ruled out.
What we do know is Ritola hasn't had an attack since Feb. 3. And his career — which he believed over in December, when headaches, dizziness and ringing in his right ear were so severe it made flying nearly impossible — gets a healthy restart Friday when training camp opens at the Ice Sports Forum.
"I don't even have to worry about it," Ritola, 24, said Tuesday, "and that's the biggest relief."
The biggest surprise was how little it took to alleviate the symptoms, which surfaced in September 2010 after Ritola was claimed off waivers from the Red Wings.
Ritola took several medicines and wore earplugs on planes to mitigate pressure changes believed to be sparking attacks. He wore a hearing aid in his right ear, the drum of which he ruptured in summer 2010 diving into a pool.
But what finally did the trick, Ritola said, were neck-cracking sessions with Brad Robinson, a chiropractor who works with Tampa Bay's AHL affiliate in Norfolk, to where Ritola was demoted Feb. 9, six days after an attack kept him out of a game with the Maple Leafs.
"When Mattias came in and explained what was going on, I said, 'Let me take a look at your neck,' " Robinson said. "I felt what was going on, a big muscle spasm on the right side.
"Any time you have a tense muscle compared to the other side, that means the spine is distorted and that leads to pressure on the nerves. The nerves supply the upper cervical spine, which leads to the skull and into the ear and sinuses. That's what gives those kinds of symptoms."
Robinson said Ritola's misalignment likely was from the abuse a body takes from hockey.
"I moved the bone back into proper alignment and took the pressure off the nerves," Robinson said. "The muscles balanced out, the nerve supply was restored back into the skull, and the body started working the way it is supposed to."
The story still has loose ends.
Mulligan said Ritola had received chiropractic treatment from the Lightning; Ritola said he could not recall whether he did. And given what happened in Norfolk, Ritola said he doesn't believe he had Meniere's, which the National Institutes of Health says is caused by a buildup of fluid in the inner ear and a constriction of blood vessels similar to what causes migraines.
But Mulligan isn't discarding the diagnosis of Tampa Bay's doctors.
"Since (Ritola) improved with the chiropractic, does that mean he doesn't or didn't have Meniere's? No," Mulligan said. "It could be a situation where he is in a dormancy period and that was enough to put him over the edge. Whether it's related to the chiropractic, we'll never know."
Whatever happened, Ritola said he is confident it is in the past and is eager to really show the Lightning what he can do.
Last season, the 6-foot-2, 192-pound Swede had four goals and eight points for Tampa Bay in 31 games, most of which were played while he stressed over his health. He had nine goals and 27 points in 17 games for Norfolk.
"The biggest thing for him is he's got very good hands and protects the puck extremely well," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "That's a huge asset."
"When I was not having problems last year, I felt like I could play here," Ritola said. "Now I'm cured. I feel good. There's not much more to say."
camp schedule: Training camp begins Friday with off-ice testing and physicals. On-ice workouts are Saturday-Monday at 10 a.m. All on-ice activities are free and open to the public.