Balance and Your Brain


Did you know that falls are the number one cause of death for people over age 75, and the leading cause of accidental death for people over age 65? Did you know that hidden balance problems play a major role in seemingly unrelated problems like motion sickness, learning difficulties, anxiety and digestive problems?

Functional Neurology provides the most comprehensive approach to the evaluation and treatment of balance problems in the healthcare system today. This article will give you an overview of how your balance system works, how it affects the rest of your body, what can go wrong and what you can do about it.

Balance tells your brain where you are in relation to gravity. Your brain relies on nerve messages from your inner ear, your neck, your feet and your eyes to know where you are in relation to gravity. These messages all work together and add to one another. For example, if you close your eyes it is harder to keep your balance, and if you put your feet in ice water to numb the messages from your feet it is harder to keep your balance.

Many of us have first-hand experience with nausea after riding the roller coaster or merry-go-round. You might not be aware that hidden balance problems can be a factor in digestive problems, incontinence or a racing heart. These connections happen because nerve messages to and from the balance centers in the base of the brain also affect the control centers for the parasympathetic nervous system that controls digestion and other subconscious vital processes.

We can categorize balance problems as either peripheral or central. Peripheral problems are due to dysfunctions in the areas of the body that send balance messages to the brain: the inner ear, the eyes, neck and feet. Central problems are due to dysfunctions in the areas of the brain that receive the balance messages. Peripheral and central problems respond to different types of treatment.

Dysfunction in the inner ear can cause balance problems. Sometimes a virus affects the messages from one ear, and can cause a sensation of spinning or vertigo. At other times, “ear rocks” come loose in the inner ear, and they cause a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. The room spins when you tilt your head in particular directions. A specific set of exercises can help get the ear rocks to a safer part of the inner ear so they won’t cause the balance problems. Meniere’s disease is another balance problem that is caused by dysfunction in the inner ear.

Restrictions in the neck can cause balance problems. If the joints and muscles in the neck are not moving smoothly, they send conflicting messages to the brain that can cause disorientation, dizziness and other balance problems after moving your neck. Treatments to restore normal motion in your neck can relieve many balance problems, including motion sickness.

Sometimes a balance problem is not in the inner ear, neck, feet or eyes, but instead is caused by dysfunction in a part of the brain that receives balance messages. For example, the cerebellum is a part of the brain that receives balance messages and coordinates movement. If it is trigger-happy it might overreact and cause you to feel spinning, nausea, incontinence, or faintness for a few seconds after you turn your head. Treatment to help rehabilitate the cerebellum is often helpful in this condition.

Hopefully this article has helped you understand the wide impact of the balance system on other areas of health, and the wide variety of issues that can cause balance problems. Particular chiropractic neurology treatment and rehabilitation procedures can be helpful for each of these conditions.