What is the Vestibular System:
Without using a lot of medical terms, the vestibular system is basically our ability or avoidance to move through space. It is how we are able to make sense of the world and how to move through different environments.
How do we balance? To maintain balance while moving through different environments requires sensory input from three main sources: eyes, muscles and joints, and vestibular organs. All three of these sources send information to the brain.
The vestibular system is a little more complicated. The vestibular apparatus is located in your inner ear. This apparatus includes the utricle, saccule, and three semicircular canals. The utricle and saccule detect gravity and linear movement. The utricle senses horizontal movement, while the saccule senses change in linear or vertical acceleration (going up and down an elevator). Calcium carbonate crystals called otoconia lie in the saccule and utricle of the ear. When the head moves, these small crystals stimulate hair cells and the hair cells send signals down nerve fibers, which are interpreted by the brain as motion. The semicircular canals detect rotational movement. These canals are filled with a fluid called endolymph. As we move our head, the endolymphatic fluid will shift and information regarding this movement is sent to the brain for interpretation.
● The vestibular system does change as we age..
Studies now show a decrease in vestibular nerve cells beginning at age 55.
Blood flow to the inner ear decreases with age.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is one of the most common causes of vertigo in older adults.
As our senses decline, our balance declines. For example, an individual with macular degeneration would rely more on their proprioceptors (sensors of position and movement in the feet and legs) and vestibular system (inner ear).
BPPV is basically a problem with those crystals I mentioned above. These tiny crystals can become dislodged and migrate into one or more of the semicircular canals. When enough of these crystals accumulate in one of the canals they will disrupt normal fluid movement, which will then cause the inner ear to send false signals to the brain. An individual will commonly experience vertigo, or a false sensation of spinning with head movements. Once the particles settle, the vertigo will stop.
○ How is BPPV treated? Sadly, most people or given medication for BPPV. Because BPPV is a mechanical issue, it should be corrected mechanically. Once your healthcare provider knows which canal the crystals are in, the provider can perform the appropriate maneuver to move the particles out.
Causes of Vertigo:
- Vestibular neuritis (inflammation of the vestibular nerve)
- Meniere’s disease
- Head or neck injury
- Brain problems (stroke or tumor)
Reference: 1. www.vestibular.org
For more information and to schedule an appointment with Jessica Voegeli, please contact Rivergate Physical Therapy at 970-259-2547.