Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Is Your Internal GPS Working Properly?

The importance of our balance system cannot be overstated in life. We all know that we need good balance to stand on one leg or walk a tightrope. But did you know that your balance system works 24/7 ? Running, walking, standing, sitting and even sleeping! Without proper functioning your brain is like a little boy lost in the woods and your body is on a constant merry-go-round. So let's discuss what contributes to the balance system.

Our balance system is three pillar strong:
  1. Eyes
  3. Proprioceptive (sensory) systems of the body (such as the skin, muscles, and joints)

Information about our surroundings is gathered by our eyes, vestibular system and sensory organs which is relayed to the brain. It is then processed and we get the awareness of our body position.


The vestibular organ consists of a complex network of sacs, canals and receptors present in your inner ear (DEEP inside the ear). It contains millions of tiny little cells that move/vibrate when you move your head/body. This movement from BOTH vestibular organs is then sent to the brain by your ear nerves.

The vestibular system helps answer two basic life questions: Which way is up? Where am I going? In essence, the vestibular system is like a PRECISE INTERNAL GPS, used for maintaining the orientation of head and body in time and space.

So what happens when our Internal GPS doesn't work properly?


The vestibular system can fall prey to three "I"s like many other organs in the body: Injury, Infection and Inflammation. Without a constant input of body position and sense from your vestibular organs to your brain, internal confusion sets in. Most times your brain is struggling to figure out if you are standing, sitting, moving etc.

  • Spinning or whirling sensation; an illusion of movement of self or the world (vertigo)
  • Lightheaded, floating, or rocking sensation (dizziness)
  • Sensation of being heavily weighted or pulled in one direction
  • Imbalance, stumbling, difficulty walking straight or turning a corner
  • Clumsiness or difficulty with coordination
And since one of the three pillars of balance (Eyes, Vestibular and Proprioception) is not doing its job, the other two work OVERTIME. And no wonder, they don't like it.


  • Headaches, blurred vision, double vision
  • Trouble focusing or tracking objects with the eyes; objects or words on a page seem to jump, bounce, float, or blur or may appear doubled
  • Discomfort from busy visual environments such as traffic, crowds, stores, and patterns
  • Sensitivity to certain types of computer monitors and digital televisions
  • Increased night blindness; difficulty walking in the dark
  • Poor depth perception
  • Sensitivity to changes in walking surfaces or footwear
  • Muscle and joint pain (due to struggling with balance)
  • Difficulty finding stability in crowds or in large open spaces
  • Fatigue
If you think or have been told you have a vestibular condition, you should see a trained Vestibular Physcial Therapist. Contact Duffy & Bracken and ask for an appointment with me. The longer you system stays "uncompensated", the harder it is for it to revert back. Knowing about your condition can help ease anxiety and you can learn skills to cope with the symptoms. Exercises and balance training can bring your confidence back and put you on the road to recovery.

    Nidhi Sharma, MPT, MCMT
    Vestibular Specialist