When you have a vestibular disorder, your middle ear is sending wrong signals about the orientation of your head to your brain. This can cause extreme dizziness, especially when you tilt or rotate your head. Severe symptoms can make it difficult to perform daily activities without suffering from debilitating dizzy spells.
Thankfully, vestibular balance rehabilitation programs can help reduce your symptoms and let you live your life normally again. These programs focus on improving your brain's ability to use other cues in order to maintain balance, which reduces its reliance on your vestibular system. To learn more about some of the activities you'll perform during a vestibular balance rehabilitation program, read on.
Gaze Stabilization Exercises
Some of the most frequent activities you'll perform during vestibular balance rehabilitation are gaze stabilization exercises. For example, you'll be asked to focus your eyes on a point in the distance while turning your head slowly from side to side or tilting your head. As your balance improves, you'll be asked to walk, squat down or sway from side to side while keeping your gaze fixed on a single point.
The purpose of these exercises is to help your brain understand how your impaired vestibular system and your vision interact. As you repeat these activities, your brain will learn to rely less on your vestibular system (which is sending it incorrect messages about the position of your head) and more on your vision. Over time, this will help you reduce the amount of dizziness you feel while you're in motion.
Activities on a Foam Pad
Another common vestibular balance rehabilitation exercise is standing or walking around on a foam pad. Your muscles contain nerves called proprioceptors, which send signals to your brain about the current orientation of your body. When you stand on a springy foam pad, the proprioceptors in your ankles don't work as well. That's why it's difficult for people to keep their balance while standing or walking around on a foam pad, even if they don't have a vestibular disorder.
Walking around on a foam pad forces your brain to rely more on sight rather than on your proprioceptors in order to maintain balance. When you have a vestibular disorder and your brain isn't receiving the correct signals from your middle ear, your brain will learn to rely almost solely on your vision in order to keep your balance. This exercise greatly increases your brain's ability to use your vision to maintain balance.
Walking While Your Vision Is Impaired
On the other end of the spectrum, you'll also be asked to walk around and perform tasks while wearing special goggles that make it difficult for you to see. You won't be completely sightless during these exercises, because that can cause your brain to negate visual input entirely as a balance aid. Wearing goggles that blur and distort your vision will send your brain the incorrect signals about where your head and the rest of your body are located, which makes it rely mostly on your proprioceptors for balance. As a result, your brain's ability to interpret signals from your proprioceptors will be increased as you perform these exercises.
Overall, the purpose vestibular balance rehabilitation is to force your brain to compensate for the fact that your middle ear can no longer be relied upon to help you keep your balance. At the same time, you'll also strengthen your brain's ability to interpret signals from your vision and your proprioceptors. You'll learn how to do these exercises during vestibular balance rehabilitation, and you'll be expected to perform them every day at home. Frequent repetition is necessary to train your brain to disregard signals from your vestibular system.
If you're interested in learning how to perform these activities, find a vestibular balance rehabilitation program in your area and sign up for a few classes—you'll be able to improve your balance and reduce your risk of accidentally falling.