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The Vestibular System


What do your ears have to do with balance?

Well, a whole lot actually. Deep inside (behind the R and L eye) the cranium sits your internal GPS that helps you sense head position, how fast your are moving and in what direction, as well where you are posturally. This internal GPS helps you stay upright against the constant gravitational pull we experience on the earth. What is it? Your inner ear! The inner ear is made up of a series of canals and an explanation of these, will help provide a basic understanding of how the inner ear serves to sense movement and help us maintain our balance. There are 3 semi-circular canals in each ear and these are important in sensing rotational movement. Whether your whole body/torso turns with your head or you just turn your head right or left, independently of the rest of your torso, these 3 canals will be stimulated (more so on the side you’re turning towards if things are functioning properly) and you’ll feel the rate and change of that head movement. The other 2 canals in each ear are the utricles and saccules. Saccules pick up movement in the vertical plane, or level changes. They are also sensitive to the speed of the change in position. A couple examples would be getting up out of bed in the morning or doing a squat (vertical change in head position). The R and L utricle pick up on movement in the horizontal plane as well as the speed of that movement. There are a couple more parts, contained within the ear that help us understand how this amazing mechanism can accurately and consistently pick up changes in body position and the speed of those changes. We have endolymph, or fluid in the ears that help us pick up on positional changes. We also have stones, called otoliths in the inner ear. These are often referred to in Physical Therapy as crystals. This term comes from the roots ‘oto’ for ear and ‘lith’ for stone. Inside the otolithic organs and the semicircular canals are hair-like structures called cilia or stereocilia. These structures will sense the direction of the fluid in the ear as well as the speed of the fluid. Imagine a rock star with long, wavy hair driving a convertible. As they start driving down the street by their house, their hair is probably mildly and gently waving in the breeze. As they accelerate onto the highway, that hair is flying back full force. This may help produce a mental image of how the cilia function and how important they are in sensing the change in rate of movement and thus, just how important they are to the vestibular system. I hope this helps provide a better understanding of how you stay upright and maintain your ‘feeling’ of being well-balanced.

You’ve probably heard the phrase, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it.’ And this is absolutely true and applies to the vestibular system as well. A variety of head movements and positional changes, at different speeds is very valuable to both improve function of your brain and nervous system as well as to prevent any issues arising from daily life and daily movement.

If you’re looking for a clear, concise and proven system for improving your balance by positively impacting your vestibular system, I have you covered. Give us a call at 612-562-8360 and we will send you a tool kit for FREE!

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