How does our balance system work?

by Mackenzie Davidge, PT, DPT

Balance is maintained by many different systems in your body working together to keep you and your vision stable. We have three systems that play a role in our ability to maintain our balance and prevent dizziness.

  1. Somatosensory system: Sensors sensitive to stretch, pressure, vibration, and touch in your muscles, joints, and skin that tell your brain where your body is in space
  2. Visual System: Your eyes tell your brain important information about where your body is in relation to its environment, specifically the horizon.
  3. Vestibular System: Your inner ear is responsible for reporting about the movements and position of your head. This system allows our eyes and vision to stay focused even when our head is in motion. It also tells our brain whether we are moving up/down, like riding in an elevator, or moving forward, like riding in a car.

All of these systems work together to keep you on your feet and your vision focused. However, if any one of these systems is not performing the way it should, it can cause difficulties with balance or even dizziness.

Why see a physical therapist (PT) for dizziness?

A physical therapist can help you determine which of these three systems may be affected and can instruct you on exercises that will help how your body uses all three of these systems.

If balance problems and dizziness are related to your vestibular system, located in your inner ear, a physical therapist will be able to perform an assessment to determine the cause of your dizziness and provide you with “next step” recommendations.

A common cause of dizziness is vertigo. This is related to your inner ears ability to tell your brain where your head is in space. When this fails, your visual system can’t keep up with your head movements, resulting in short periods of dizziness. Your physical therapist can perform specific maneuvers to help correct this problem and resolve your dizziness. Research shows that 80-90% of patients have relief with dizziness on the first repositioning maneuver performed by your PT.

If you are experiencing difficulties with balance or experiencing dizziness, come in to see your physical therapist. Our brain and inner ear recover best within the first few months, so it is important to come in and get checked out early on.

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