For a long time people believed the structure of semi-circular canals had something to do with hearing. We now know they are integral to our sense of balance.
When some people refer to the “vestibular system,” they are referring specifically to this delicate structure of canals in the inner ear. Others would say these structures are part of the vestibular system but one must include the brain’s role in processing the information gathered by the inner ear structures. The whole circuit of gathering, routing and processing of information regarding one’s orientation to gravity comprises the vestibular system. What about the role of the eyes and the nerve connecting the eyes to ears? Certainly vision is part of the system that we use to sense balance, but the eyes are generally considered to work with the vestibular system rather than identified as components of it. What about proprioceptors? These receptors found in the tendons, associated with various joints (eg. ankles, ribs) are critical to the whole balance equation. The brain processes information from the proprioceptive or “somatosensory” system along with information from the eyes and inner ear structures to constantly update our orientation to gravity and re-calibrate our balance, moment by moment, step by step.
In Scott Mc Credie’s book Balance; In Search of the Lost Sense, Mc Credie mentions it was Aristotle that articulated the 5 senses we generally learned in childhood. Our sense of balance is sometimes referred to as our 6th sense ( see previous post on proprioception and Radio Lab segment “the Butcher’s Assistant). Mc Credie’s delightful book takes us through a bit of the history tracing vestibular science and our understanding of how human balance works. Why do artists of the high wire have such a refined sense of balance and how do they fare as they age? Read the chapter about Karl Wallenda. How did airline pilots shift from flying by their own eyes to reliance on navigation instrumentation? It’s a fascinating and enjoyable read.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Frank Belgau and the cognitive connection. That cerebellum you have not only moves you around but moves thoughts around. The work of Belgau connects beautifully to some of the new brain science emerging – the building of myelin and our understanding of neuroplasticity.
I recommend the following links:
Scott Mc Credie: http://www.balancethelostsense.com/faqandresources.shtml
Belgau balance board: http://www.balametrics.com/products/indprod.htm
Belgau’s company: http://www.learningbreakthrough.com/sensory-integration-a-neuroplasticity
Belgau videos on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/results?suggested_categories=10%2C27&search_query=frank+belgau%2C+playlist
Embodying Neuroscience: http://www.feldenkrais.com/events/conference/2012_public/
Research Symposium Embodying Neuroscience: http://www.feldenkrais.com/events/conference/2012_public/preview_symposium
Scott Mc Credie radio interview (Live radio interview with David Inge, on WILL-AM, the University of Illinois’ NPR affiliate station, June 13, 2007:): http://www.will.uiuc.edu/media/focus070613b.mp3
Balance; In Search of the Lost Sense, Copyright June 2007: Scott McCredie Purchase Mc Credie’s book
HELPFUL RESOURCES & LINKS (from Mc Credie’s site)
-Suzane Van Amburgh, Space To Move