We exercise our heart, our muscles, and our bones but what about exercise for our vestibular system? The fact is that most people miss this area and for good reason, most people don’t even know what their vestibular system is until it gives them a problem. The vestibular system is an organ that helps with our balance and awareness in space. If you close your eyes, lean to the right and know how far off center you are that is your vestibular system giving you that awareness. Like other parts of our bodies the vestibular system is a system that takes maintenance and benefits from exercises. This knowledge is slowly building in the world of sports performance training as trainers are learning just how integrated the vestibular system is to high level athletes. Whether you have a vestibular issue or are just looking to improve your overall wellbeing this is an area that should not be skipped.
Vestibular exercises can come in 4 forms and be challenged or progressed many different ways. The 4 forms typically come in this order:
- Eyes move, head stays still
- Head moves, eyes stay still
- Eyes & head move together
- Eyes & head move in opposite directions
An example of these exercises would be looking at your window pane. There are typically 4 corners of the window and 3 lines creating 6 smaller sections. You could start by moving your eyes from corner to corner (eyes move, head still). Then keep your eyes on the center target and move your head to each corner (head moves, eyes stay still). Now move your head and eyes to each of those 6 smaller sections of window (eyes and head move together). Lastly use the middle line across the window pane and move your eyes to the right while your head turns left, then switch at an equal pace (eyes and head move in opposite directions). This covers your basic vestibular exercises stimulating the inner ear to work with your eyes. Now the variations of this could include the speed, timing, coordinating a ball toss, sitting, standing, standing on 1 leg. The combinations are endless and will vary for each person.
Vestibular exercises are issued by a healthcare professional and are individualized for each person as we have unique systems that function differently. Someone with a known neurological disorder may need one set of vestibular exercises while an athlete looking to improve their game would require a completely different setup. Ultimately the basics are the same though for performing vestibular exercises. The stimuli can be modified many different ways to get varying responses. These exercises can be varied by changing the distance, speed, or position of the person doing the exercises.
Adaptation exercises are those that help to integrate the imbalance between the right and left vestibular organs. This is commonly used when there is unilateral vestibular dysfunction meaning that the right and left vestibular systems are not getting the same information. Performing the exercises will improve the brains integration to allow that to feel normal.
Habituation exercises are those that have you repeat a specific movement so that your response that that movement becomes lessened. This means that if turning around causes your symptoms you will practice turning in a variety of ways with frequent practice to make improvements over time. Another example of habituation exercises would be using virtual reality to treat motion sickness through frequent exposure to moving stimuli.
It is something easy to integrate into your workout routines. If you suffer from dizziness, motion sensitivity, or balance loss you should be working on your vestibular exercises daily to improve those symptoms.