What is the Vestibular System?
The vestibular system is a sensory system in your inner ear that helps you maintain your balance. This system is key for providing information regarding motion of the body/head and spatial orientation.
The vestibular system includes three semicircular canals (which tell you about rotational movement) and two otoliths; the saccule and utricle (which tell you about linear movement, for example up and down). Your vestibular system helps you to do many things, such as walk and move, see clearly when moving, and maintain posture and stability. Without it, you would be falling over constantly.
Your body’s ability to maintain balance relies on three main control systems which all talk together. These systems include sensory input from your eyes (visual system), sensory input from the vestibular system and sensory input from your muscles, joints and skin (proprioceptive system). These systems communicate together and share their information to help you adapt your posture and movement as needed. When you are moving, your vestibular system is the boss and your brain will take this information as true. When there is a mismatch between the information coming in from your three balance systems, symptoms of nausea, dizziness and vertigo can occur. An example of this is car sickness. When you are moving in a car, your vestibular system says you are moving forward. If you are reading a book, your eyes tell your brain you are not moving and your somatosensory system says you are sitting still in a seat. This mismatch of information can cause you to feel sick.
When people have a problem with their vestibular system, they usually experience dizziness and/or vertigo. Sometimes this is due to something as simple as movement of crystals in the inner ear (BPPV) and other times it is more complicated and requires more rehabilitation. Vestibular rehabilitation is effective for retraining the brain and inner ear how to use the information coming in appropriately. Our brains are continually changing and evolving, by challenging the brain through specialized, targeted rehabilitation, it can re-learn how to use the information properly.