Your vestibular system serves as your sixth sense. Unlike the more tangible five senses (sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste), your vestibular system is a bit more subtle — but it’s impact is profound. It’s primary function is to send information to your brain about where you are in space, and assists your ability to use motor function and balance.When you experience vestibular dysfunction it can impact your nervous system and can result in a myriad of issues like dizziness or imbalance, cognitive dysfunction, confusion, motion sickness, and many more.
The Vestibular System: What It Is and How To Balance It
You’re likely familiar with the five senses; sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. These senses allow you to take in information from your environment and translate them to your brain so you can feel safe and know how to interact with the world.
What you may not be familiar with, however, is your sixth sense — the vestibular system. The vestibular system is often overlooked due to the fact that its inputs are a bit less tangible than the other five senses. With that being said, the use of this system is crucial for nervous system development and function.
Vestibular dysfunction can show up in myriad ways, from cognitive dysfunction to issues with balance and gait, to emotional imbalances and more. But how do you know if your vestibular system is working properly, and what are the symptoms of dysfunction?
In this article, we’ll cover the vestibular system, how it works, signs of imbalance, and how to know if your system is working properly. We’ll also discuss a comprehensive protocol for getting your vestibular system back online.
What Is The Vestibular System?
The vestibular system is a sensory system that’s located primarily in your inner ear and provides your brain with information about where you are in space (spatial orientation), motion, and head position.
Through a dynamic structure of inner ear fluid, tiny hairs, and tubes, and canals within your ear, the vestibular system allows you to find balance, stabilize your head and body, and maintain good posture. This system is a crucial aspect of your central nervous system and is essential for movement and coordination, working with your reflexes and motor skills.
As a foundational aspect of your central nervous system, your vestibular system’s function is vital for higher learning, such as speech and academic achievement. It’s connected to your visual and auditory systems, which makes its integration crucial for sensory processing.
When this system is damaged or dysfunctional, it can result in issues like developmental delays, lack of balance and coordination, and trouble with sensory input[*].
Vestibular Dysfunction: Signs and Symptoms
Injury to the vestibular system, certain diseases, and environmental and genetic components may all contribute to dysfunction in your vestibular system.
You may notice different signs and symptoms depending on the specific type of dysfunction, but in general, imbalance in this system shows up as either:
#1 Sensitivity to Vestibular Input
For people with this type of dysfunction, even small movements can cause a large vestibular response. This may result in issues like becoming sick when traveling, or fear of things like slides and swings which have a large impact on the vestibular system.
#2 Desensitivity to Vestibular Input
For people with this type of dysfunction, more movement is necessary to communicate vestibular information to their brain. They may become slower to respond to stimuli, seek out movement like roller coasters or rocking in chairs, and rarely get dizzy.
Dysfunction in the vestibular system can affect both children and adults. Common signs and symptoms in each group include:
● Developmental delays (walking, jumping)
● Fear of falling
● Difficulty maneuvering around items in the home (running into furniture) ● Falling all the time/ clumsiness
● Shies away from slides, swings, etc.
● Anxiety, frustration, moodiness
● Uncoordinated, poor balance
● Difficulty climbing stairs
● Difficulty going from sitting to standing
● Walking with legs too far apart
● Confusion/ disorientation
● Difficulty concentrating
● Frequent falls
● Trouble with balance and equilibrium
● Impaired mobility, gait abnormalities (shuffling, wide gait)
● Lightheadedness, feeling faint
● Motion sickness
● Nausea and vomiting
● Oscillopsia – objects appear blurred or jumping with head movement ● Vertigo
● Muffled hearing or tinnitus
● Hearing loss
● Sensitivity to sound
How Common Is Vestibular Dysfunction?
It’s estimated that in the United States as many as 35% of adults aged 40 years or older have experienced some form of vestibular dysfunction — that’s around 69 million people.
The data on children with vestibular dysfunction is still in its infancy as issues with the vestibular system are generally overlooked in this population. With that being said, many clinicians are beginning to recognize vestibular issues in children, especially in those with learning difficulties or impairment of motor development and balance[*].
How To Test If Your Vestibular System Is Weak
Your vestibular system provides information about equilibrium and movement and works with the senses of vision and hearing to let your brain know where you are in space. When the system is weak, you’ll have more difficulty balancing and coordinating bodily movements.
One simple test that you can do to test your vestibular system is to stand on one leg with your eyes closed. If you can’t maintain balance for at least 10 seconds and find that you’re wobbling or falling over, this is a sign that your vestibular system is weak. But don’t worry if yours is weak, we see it all the time, and know just what to do.
The Brain Harmony 5-Step Plan Of Care
At Brain Harmony, we understand that your vestibular system is crucial to your central nervous system’s function. When the vestibular system is weak, your central nervous system won’t be able to do its job, and all the higher cognitive processes that rely on this system will be negatively impacted.
This involves not only the ability to balance and move but also the ability to take in information from your environment and engage with optimal processing.
To get your vestibular system back online, we have a 5-step plan of care that treats with the root of the problem and the impact expresses itself upstream with gains in learning and behavior.
In the first step, we work with your vagus nerve to bring your body into parasympathetic mode — the state that your body enters when you feel safe. One system, called the Safe and Sound Protocol, was created for vagal regulation- intended to soothe and organize the senses. For many people, the Safe and Sound Protocol on its own is enough to start to notice measurable changes in nervous system resiliency.
In the second step, we work on neurological organization. Through a unique combination of therapeutic activities, reflex integration, and tools that enhance neuroplasticity (the ability of your brain to change its neural pathways), we start to restructure your brain in a way that supports cognitive function, emotional control, and communication. Everytime an individual dons our tools with bone conduction and sound frequencies, they are exercising and strengthening the vestibular apparatus which can accelerate the maturation process, resulting in faster gains. There isn’t anything else that can produce the accelerated gains in nervous system organization like the Brain Harmony Vestibular Lesson plan which can be taught and shared with all family members.
The third step involves therapeutic activities that are specifically chosen to activate your vestibular system. Brain Harmony has a library full of research, courses, ebooks etc to share with clients so it is easy to layer in these activities into your weekly routine. Participating in this phase is considered our manual lesson plans and when paired with neuroplastic tools, have produced outcomes rarely witnessed outside of our program.
The fourth step is customized reflex integration. Reflexes and movement play a significant role in your vestibular system’s function, so this step really hones in ways for you to optimize movement patterns that will strengthen your vestibular activity.
The fifth and final step is self-care support. This step will help you master your vestibular system and provides you tools and tips to make your life easier as you heal your vestibular dysfunction. For example, an easy way to add vestibular strengthening to a young child’s daily routine would
be to incorporate furniture and items that promote climbing, crawling and moving dynamically through the air. The RAD Children’s Furniture company embraces this perspective and has
crawl boxes and labyrinth furniture that promotes the type of vestibular engagement children need daily. These non-toxic pieces of furniture promote climbing and crawling, with the purpose of engaging the head in all directions — a vital aspect of vestibular development. You can easily add a rope swing in the backyard, or a balance disc to the task of brushing your teeth, and you are strengthening your sixth sense like a pro.
Altogether, the 5-step plan of care provides all the hand-holding you may need to walk you through a journey back to balance and organization. Many people find that working with a trained therapist can make a world of difference as the exercise and tools chosen are specific to your body, your brain, and your condition.
Gray’s Brain Harmony Success Story
Gray’s vestibular system was so weak from a concussion that he had suffered from that he would get car sick on his way to school and it would affect his ability to function in class for several hours each day. He wasn’t just struggling with academics, he also had sleep difficulties, anxiety, and sensory processing issues.
When his mother brought him to Brain Harmony, his trained therapist identified the weak vestibular system and immediately got him started on the 5-Step Plan of Care to Achieve Neurological C.A.L.M.
After starting with Brain Harmony, the car sickness that was causing so much disruption to Gray’s life has now subsided, and his anxiety is a thing of the past.
If you believe you or someone in your family is struggling with vestibular dysfunction, Brain Harmony offers a comprehensive protocol that trains your nervous system to gently get back on track. To learn more, book a free consultation today.