What is the Importance of the Vestibular System?

There are 3 components that work to create balance. Eye sight, the body’s ability to sense movement and the vestibular system all work to create balance. Specifically, the vestibular plays a large roll in balance and fall prevention. In fact, patients with vestibular dysfunction have an 8-fold increase in risk of falling (Hall et al., 2016).

The Vestibular System

The vestibular system works to tell where the body and head are in space. The vestibular system detects linear, angular and rotational acceleration. Then, the vestibular system sends the movement information to the brain. Then, the brain uses the vestibular information to control postural and body position in space. Additionally, vestibular information helps to prevent blurry vision when moving, such as driving. When it comes to anatomy, the vestibular system has two key players: semicircle canals and otoliths.

Vestibular Anatomy

The semicircle canals respond to angular acceleration. For example, going upside down on a roller coaster. There are 3 semicircular canals and each is responsible for a different plane of movement. The canals are filled with fluid. The fluid moves through the canals in response to body movements. The displacement of fluid tells the brain information about the body’s movement.

The otoliths react and send information about linear movement. There are two otolith organs in the body: utricle and saccule. The utricle responds to horizontal movement. On the contract, the saccule responds to vertical movement. The otolith organs have nerves covered in a gelatinous mass. There are calcium crystals emended on top of the gelatinous mass. Similar to the semicircle canals, the crystals move in response to movement. Hence, causing the gelatinous mass to move and excite the vestibular nerve.

There can be issues with either part of the vestibular system. However, issues are often caused in the semicircle canals as opposed to the otoliths. In our next blog, we’ll discuss common vestibular dysfunction and how physical therapy can help!

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Resources:

Hall, C. D., Herdman, S. J., Whitney, S. L., Cass, S. P., Clendaniel, R. A., Fife, T. D., Furman, J. M., Getchius, T. S., Goebel, J. A., Shepard, N. T., & Woodhouse, S. N. (2016). Vestibular Rehabilitation for Peripheral Vestibular Hypofunction: An Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guideline: FROM THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL THERAPY ASSOCIATION NEUROLOGY SECTION. Journal of neurologic physical therapy : JNPT40(2), 124–155. https://doi.org/10.1097/NPT.0000000000000120