Vestibular Dysfunction

Vestibular Dysfunction Feb8th 2021

By Dr. Shaina Flanzraich

15% of the population will have symptoms of dizziness at some point in their life. But, where does dizziness come from and what is the Vestibular system?

There are 3 systems that help you maintain your balance:

  1. The vision system, which tells you where you are
  2. The somatosensory system, which tells you where your body is
  3. The vestibular system, which tells you where your head is in relation to your body. 

You have 2 vestibular systems on each side of the head behind the eardrum, in an area called the inner ear. The vestibular system is made up of 3 semicircular canals, the utricle, and saccule. The 3 semicircular canals detect movement of the head when turning side to side and up/down. The utricle and saccule detect linear movements such as driving forward/backward in the car or when going up/down in an elevator. 

When looking straight ahead, both Vestibular systems are firing the same signal. When you turn your head one side gets excited and the other side gets inhibited. When one vestibular system is not working, your brain is getting the signal that your head is turning towards the unaffected side, even though you are sitting still. 

This is similar to why some people get carsick or can’t read while being driven in a car. This misinformation can make you feel dizzy, off-balance, nauseous, and have difficulty focusing. When the vestibular system is impaired it also slows down the connection between your vision and sensation. These connections are called your vestibular ocular reflex and vestibular spinal reflex. This is what makes you feel off-balance and or causes you to have difficulty reading.

Physical therapy for a vestibular dysfunction provides specific exercises to help re-train the connection between your vestibular, vision, and somatosensory systems so your brain is no longer getting misinformation. These exercises strengthen your vestibular ocular and vestibular spinal reflexes.

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