The balance system (vestibular system) is what makes it possible for us to walk, run, and move without falling. This delicate system is controlled by the brain, the inner ear, and all the sensory systems of the body (joints, muscles, and skin).
Concentrated in the inner ear, the balance system encompasses three fluid-filled semicircular canals that act as “sensors” detecting rotary movement of the head. Each of these canals is located at different angles, but always right angle to each other. When the head moves, the hair cells of the canals are triggered, sending nerve impulses to the brain. These impulses are processed, telling us where we are in relation to gravity.
The utricle and saccule are situated near the semicircular canals and further assist the brain in identification of head positioning. The utricle is sensitive to changes in horizontal surroundings, while the saccule is perceptive to vertical acceleration shifts, such as going up in an elevator.
A balance test is recommended if the following symptoms are present:
- Unstable Balance
- Dizziness or Vertigo
- Irregular Gait
- Rapid, involuntary eye movement
It’s important to seek medical advice any time one experiences unexplained dizziness or balance issues, as both of these can be symptoms of an underlying condition. In order to pinpoint the exact cause of these systems, your doctor will perform a balance test. This will determine:
- The changes happening in the balance function
- Is vision, inner ear, and sensory functions working optimally
- What is causing the symptoms
- Where in the balance system is the problem occurring
Once the problem is diagnosed, treatment through balance rehabilitation is typically recommended. Most dizziness and balance difficulties cannot be cured by surgery or medications.