What is the vestibular system?

Published - Dec 09, 2020

Written by: Alain Zurmuhlen, DPT

The vestibular system is a complex sensory organ found in each inner ear. One portion of this system, the semicircular canals, are three fluid-filled loops ending with larger chambers that help detect movement. Our body uses inputs from these organs to sense motion, both linear (think of being a passenger and feeling a car or bus accelerate even as your eyes are closed) and rotational (spinning in an office chair). Our vestibular system works to let our brain know when our body is accelerating or slowing down and even has reflexes connected to our eyes and neck to help with predicting where to look while moving.

The onset of vestibular system imbalances can begin with or without an injury and cause sensations of movement while motionless or cause sensations of large movement with small movements. The connected reflexes can cause your eyes to move as well, affecting your vision. The sensation of movement while motionless is called vertigo and may be caused by your vestibular system. Vertigo can lead to dizziness and falls as well as nausea.

If the vestibular system is something a physical therapist cannot physically touch, then why are they the right professionals to treat it? Physical therapists can use the movements of your head, eyes and body to affect the fluid moving through your vestibular system to help correct vertigo while illustrating techniques to control the symptoms. If you suffer from spinning sensations when rolling over in bed or sitting up, you may have vertigo from your vestibular system - you should get in to see a physical therapist sooner rather than later!