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The Vestibular System - Our Body's Internal GPS

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

What is the Vestibular System?

An article by the Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) describes the vestibular system as our body's internal GPS system that resides in our inner ear. The vestibular system is the internal guide that tells your body where you are and where you need to go, which is why it works hand-in-hand with the body’s visual and proprioceptive systems.

It directs our bodies step-by-step through the process of responding to gravitational pull, and just like a normal GPS system, it sends messages to the brain and other parts of the body on how to respond to sensory information we are exposed to on a daily basis. As a child, our vestibular system is very important to learning, how to walk, run, recognize words and objects, and how to behave in different situations.

This lesser-talked-about system is an integral part of our lives, and the navigation system to us carrying out our daily activities!

What are Vestibular Disorders?

People with vestibular disorders often experience problems with vertigo, dizziness, visual disturbance, and/or imbalance. They could occur as a result of injury, infection, and even ageing.

These factors result in conflicting information sent to the brain and muscles, resulting in dizziness, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, as well and increasing the risk of falls.

What are the associated risks?

Symptoms due to vestibular disorders can diminish the quality of life and impact all aspects of daily living. They can also contribute to emotional problems such as anxiety and depression.

Additionally, one of the consequences of having a vestibular disorder is that symptoms frequently cause people to adopt a sedentary lifestyle to avoid dizziness and imbalance.

As a result, decreased muscle strength and flexibility, increased joint stiffness, and reduced stamina can occur.

What is Vestibular Rehabilitation?

Vestibular Rehabilitation is an exercise-based protocol designed by a specialised physiotherapist to improve the efficiency of your vestibular system to reduce problems related to dizziness.

A vestibular disorder can cause a permanent deficit, so therapy is often designed to allow compensation.

Compensation involves helping the brain to learn to use the other senses (vision and somatosensory, i.e. body sense), to substitute for the deficient vestibular system.

Methods of Rehabilitation

Habituation - This involves repeated exposure to specific movements or visual stimuli that provoke dizziness, in a controlled manner. For example, turning their head horizontally.

Gaze Stabilisation - These are used to improve control of eye movements so vision remains clear during head movement. Patients maintain focus on an object as they move their head side to side and up/down for a designated period of time.

Canalith Repositioning - Canalith repositioning procedures are a series of coordinated movements/positions performed with the guidance of the therapist to treat those with benign paroxymal positional vertigo (BPPV).

If you notice any signs that you or your loved ones might have issues with their vestibular system, drop us a message, and our experienced physiotherapists will be ready to help.

Check out our resource below to better understand the vestibular system and how it functions!

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