Do grocery stores, crowds, bright or flashing lights or even driving make you feel dizzy, light-headed or nauseous?
Does this leave you feeling absolutely frustrated and exhausted by the end of the day?
You may feel like you are going crazy, but I’m here to assure you that you're not! There is a reason for this and I’m here to help explain why!
Now, you may not be going around thinking about the intricacies of your balance, especially when you are feeling so awful!
But understanding about how balance works can help you understand more about why you are feeling this way and the remedies available. And if you need a reminder or a more in depth approach to balance, be sure to check out or blog How Does Balance Work.
We typically know our balance involves our sense of sight and our sense of touch, but you may not consider the role that the vestibular system plays. The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, is responsible for providing our brain with information about linear and angular acceleration, as well as our head position and movement.
In other terms, this means it helps give your brain information on the movement of your head and body and the speed at which it’s moving.
This information, when combined with visual information from what you see, allows our brain to view the environment in three dimensions, maintain balance, and coordinate our movements.
This communication between visual and vestibular information is known as visual vestibular integration, and it is essential for a wide range of everyday activities such as walking, running, and jumping, as well as for many sports and daily activities like driving and navigating crowds.
So, when visual vestibular integration is functioning properly, we are able to move smoothly and confidently through our environment.
However, when there is a problem in this integration, it can lead to a variety of problems including balance disorders, motion sickness, nausea, dizziness and light-headedness especially when you are in motion or watching things in motion.
This commonly happens to people who rely too heavily on their visual system for balance or orientation to the world.
So, when your eyes are seeing something in motion, your inner ear is also trying to figure out if you are in motion or not based on what you're seeing.
If there is a weakness in your vestibular system, it can't adjust appropriately to tell your brain what's happening and, therefore this mismatch of information causes symptoms to trigger as a warning mechanism.
A good example of this is when you are sitting in a parked car and the parked car next to you suddenly starts to move our of the corner of your eye...
For a moment, you feel like you are moving (and reflexively probably slammed on the break in a panic!).
This is because your eyes saw the motion and said
“hey we are moving, what are we going to do?!”
but then your vestibular system kicked in and said
“actually we aren’t moving, we are okay!”
Fortunately, there are several assessment and treatment techniques that can be used to address your visual vestibular integration issues.
One such technique is vestibular rehabilitation, which is a form of physical therapy that aims to improve the brain's ability to process vestibular information and improve balance and spatial orientation.
Vestibular therapy treatment might include:
Education: understanding the root cause behind why your balance system is having a hard time integrating your visual and vestibular system, learning techniques and strategies on how to adapt around the symptoms to help you feel in control of them while implementing treatment techniques to eliminate the problem for good!
Oculomotor exercises, is a treatment technique designed to improve the brain's ability to use visual information to control eye movements and improve visual tracking
Habituation and desensitization techniques can be used to reduce symptoms of motion sickness and vertigo by gradually exposing you to movements and environments that cause discomfort.
Dynamic balance exercises: to help strengthen all of your systems of balance to work cohesively together
To improve visual vestibular integration and prevent dysfunction, it is essential to maintain regular physical activity and a balanced diet, and limit screen time.
To get to the root cause and develop a treatment plan specific to the reasons why you are having symptoms, it is vital to get professional help from a physical therapist who understands the balance system and is trained in vestibular therapy.
In summary, visual vestibular integration is a crucial aspect of our ability to maintain balance and navigate our environment.
Dysfunction in visual vestibular integration can lead to a variety of problems, and can be caused by a range of factors.
However, by using effective assessment and treatment techniques, as well as making lifestyle changes, visual vestibular integration can be improved and dysfunctions can be prevented.