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The Vestibular System

I find the human body absolutely fascinating. We move from place to place with little thought. We breathe with no thought at all. Don’t even get me started on our beating hearts! It’s overwhelming the number of systems that are constantly at work to keep us going day in and day out!

Recently I was listening to a podcast about balance and I was reminded that we all have a vestibular system. It provides us with our sense of balance and our awareness of spatial orientation. The basics are that this system is made up of a series of canals, located in our inner ears, containing fluid that moves over nerve cells to inform our brain where we are spatially. The image that comes to mind is the gauge in planes, the Altitude Indicator, that shows the plane’s position in relation to the horizon.

The actions of this complex system have to be developed. Watch a child taking their first steps. It’s trial and error until the communication between all of the systems inform our brain if we’re upside down, right side up or anything in between. It’s an on-going process of modifications with every new skill we learn that requires balance.

Vertigo is a common vestibular disorder. It is generally a symptom of balance disorders that are caused by things like ear infections, motion sickness and head trauma. It’s a sensation of spinning dizziness that can result in nausea and vomiting. In some cases even walking is impossible. Vertigo will often clear up on it’s own depending on it’s root cause. Seeking medical attention is a good idea to determine what is really going on so that the suffering is minimized.

There are ways to keep your vestibular system working well. It comes back to the “use it or lose it” school of thought. As adults we don’t tend to hang upside down the way we did as children. That makes us far too comfortable in the upright position. Break that mold.

The vestibular system works with our vision and strength (trunk, hip and ankle) to keep us balanced in all situations. Keeping our muscles strong and our joints mobile is key. In doing that we often get into a variety of positions (think the downward dog in yoga) that will roll that fluid around in our inner ears.

Another great thing to try is closing your eyes while standing. Start on two feet (in a safe spot), and then try it on one foot. Pay attention to how your body reacts when the visual information is removed. It’s a simple exercise that will keep your vestibular system connected and working.

Every little challenge we can create goes a long way in keeping us balanced and moving forward in a healthy way.

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