Our body has an inbuilt balancing system that allows you to walk, run and move without falling over. This balance system is comprised of a triad of information from your vision (eyes), vestibular system (ears) and proprioception (joints).
Your eyes send visual information to your brain via your nervous system to stimulate eye reflexes and reactions to movement of your head.
Your vestibular system is primarily related to your ears. The fluid in your ears displaces the tiny hair cells in the canals in response to the movement that occurs in the head and neck. This information is sent to your brain via your nervous system.
Proprioception is the third factor in establishing balance in your body. This is your body’s awareness of where it is in space. We each have little nerve endings that live in the muscles, tendons and ligaments in your body. These are more densely populated in areas like the top of your neck, your pelvis and feet. The nerve endings send information about their position via your spinal cord to the brain for interpretation. Proprioceptive fibres are the reason you can close your eyes and put your right index finger on the tip of your nose.
When your brain receives information from your eyes, ears and the joints in your body it must then combine and analyse this data. These three systems must work together to tell your brain the exact same message of movement or position.
When one system sends a differing message to your brain that conflicts with the other two messages, your brain gets confused and you can become dizzy.
You are a passenger in the back seat of a car reading a book. Your eyes are focused on the words of your book. This information from your eyes to your brain is telling you that you are stationary. Your body (proprioceptive system) and the tiny hair cells in your ears (vestibular system) are experiencing the subtle movements that come with being in a car which are transmitted to your brain to say you are moving. This conflict of information confuses your brain and you may feel dizzy or nauseous. You instinctively put the book down and look out the front window so that all three systems relay the same information of movement to your brain.
When changes or injury occurs to any three of these systems the same type of dysfunction happens.
How can joint dysfunction disturb my balance?
As mentioned earlier, your cervical spine or neck is densely populated with the tiny nerve endings that pick up information about where your neck and head is in space. This then sends the proprioceptive input to your brain.
When your neck is not functioning properly due to joint restrictions or muscle spasms, these nerves alter their message to the brain to tell a different story about the movement or lack of movement and their joint position. This may conflict with the other information coming from your eyes and ears and cause you to be unsteady, dizzy or nauseous.
This is especially common in cases following concussions or whiplash associated disorders. A similar mechanism can occur in your jaw or TMJ when it is not moving symmetrically or functioning optimally (Read more about your Jaw in our TMJ article)
This type of dysfunction does not only occur in your neck and jaw, but also occurs in your hips and pelvis.
More often than not, this can be the original area where the dysfunction creating a disturbance in balance initially begins
The reason for this is that our bodies exist in gravity when we are upright, and our centre of gravity lies within our pelvis. The centre of gravity is determined by our hip angles (more detail of this can be seen in our previous article about COG)
So whatever is happening in our hips and pelvis creates a foundation for our spine- an unstable or off-centre foundation can cause the spine ie. the neck and jaw, to become dysfunctional and create imbalance as previously described.
The hip capsule is made up of many ligamentous fibres. These ligaments all contain a dense population of proprioceptive nerve endings telling your brain where your hips and essentially your legs are in space.
Commonly during treatment we find there is a change in the symmetrical tension of the hip capsules.
This means that the ligaments in the hips have adopted a poorly tensioned pattern and may be holding your hip joint in an asymmetrical position.
Just as we saw in the neck, changes to the surrounding ligaments in one area can send a differing message to your brain that conflicts with other incoming information, and cause you to feel unsteady on your feet or unbalanced.
When corrections in your hips are implemented during your treatment at Spinal Symmetry, you may feel a little spacey or unsteady, as your body and brain recalibrate’s the information it is receiving from the joints and ligaments that we are affecting.
How can the Dynamic Therapy strap help?
When using the Dynamic Therapy Strap, you are essentially retraining the ligaments of your hip capsule to reset their tension to neutral and adopt a structurally symmetrical design. When wearing the strap at night, the proprioceptive fibres in your hip capsule are sending a message to your brain about the position of your hips and the neutral tension of your hip capsule. This retraining occurs at night so that during the day when you are upright in gravity, the more correct information can then be combined with other incoming data from your eyes and vestibular system to tell the same story- therefore creating balance within your body.
What do my ears and eyes have to do with balance?
The same mechanism applies for the vestibular system. When any part of the ear becomes irritated with an infection, this disrupts the normal functioning of the fluid and hair cells detecting movement. Once again, the message interpreted may be relayed to the brain as a different story to what the eyes and body are experiencing and therefore can create nausea, dizziness or changes in your balance.
Your vision plays a significant role in your balance. Approximately 25% of the nerves from your eyes interact with your vestibular system. There is a wide variety of conditions of the eyes that can contribute to dizziness. Some of these include how well the eyes are working together as a team to produce a single image or eye movement disorders like nystagmus, changes in saccades or smooth pursuit. These conditions can be congenital or acquired. When acquired it is generally caused by some degree of trauma or disorder.
Commonly dizziness caused by visual defects can be restored with contact lenses or special lenses, prisms or therapy involving visual exercises.
Other causes of changes to my balance
There are other reasons why your may experience changes in your balance, for example vascular changes like low blood pressure, neurological disorders like Multiple Sclerosis, or other causes like Meniere’s disease, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), low blood sugar levels or dehydration.
If you are experiencing dizziness, be sure to ask your Spinal Symmetry practitioner- as we mentioned in this article, the cause may be primarily from joint dysfunction, which is what we like to deal with best!