When you look at statistics around brain injury, 47% of them come from falling. We’re going to talk about how to prevent that today.
In the United States, March has been Brain Injury Awareness Month, and we’ve been posting some information about this on one of our Instagram page. One of the graphics that we just put up comes from the US government looking at the causes of brain injury, and the number one cause, by a huge margin in 2013, was falling, 47%. Compare that to 17% from traffic accidents, which is where most people would think that you would have a head injury come from.
Now the reason that we discuss this a lot in our curriculum is we are very interested in the visual system, but also the vestibular system, your inner ear and its influence on your movement, your pain, but specifically its job, which is keeping your head from hitting the floor. Your balance. Today what I’m going to go through are just a couple of drills focused on one specific portion of the vestibular system called the utricle.
Now I’m not going to do a long anatomical discussion today, but you basically have these organs in your inner ear. They call them otolith organs. That means ear stone. Have you ever heard of people having stones or little crystals in their ear? This is what they’re referring to. Now you have two different otolith organs. One is called the utricle. The other is called the saccule. You don’t need to know that, although there is a quiz at the end.
And the utricle basically gives us information about linear movements of the body. When I’m walking forward, I’m walking toward the camera, I’m walking backwards, I’m moving side-to-side, these are going to require the utricle to give me good information. Now this is a very integrated system, so when I saw we’re working on the utricle only, we’re not. We’re going to be involving a lot of other things.
But we have some drills that we have found to be very helpful for just stimulating this portion of your inner ear, so if you have issues like motion sickness, you have … let’s say you’re in the airport and you’re on one of the people movers and things feel a little bit weird, you feel a little bit dizzy … these drills can be really helpful for those kind of situations. On top of that, if you’re an athlete and you have to do a lot of running, sprinting, etc, sometimes reducing the impact of everything you’re doing and really focusing on these particular drills can have a huge impact on performance, as well.
So let’s go through them. The basic thing that we’re going to be working on here are linear movements of the head and body. Now the goal for us, whenever we do vestibular work, is to link it to the visual system, because they’re supposed to work together. The basic setup that I would have you do, first and foremost, first exercise, is you’re going to want a visual target. For this particular blog, I’m looking at the camera. But you can set this up anywhere, in your gym, in your house, and I just recommend using one of our downloads. Put up a Snellen chart. It’s got the different size letters on it, or some kind of other visual target.
And I normally have people start relatively close, maybe an arm’s length from that target, and you want to have it just slightly below your standing head level, because what we’re going to do is we’re going to get into kind of an athletic stance. So like a quarter squat. We’re then going to focus on one target. I would be looking at the camera lens, and then as I focus on the target, I would then begin moving my body side to side. Now I’m moving fairly quickly. And what this requires my body to do, it’s going to activate the utricle. It’s also going to make the utricle and the visual system try to work together. Looks pretty simple. We’re just moving side to side, but I try and go faster and faster and faster and still maintain that clear visual target. That’s drill number one.
Drill number two is you want to make this much more challenging, is you repeat the same exercise, only now you cover one eye, all right? Then you cover the other eye. What you may find is that by removing one of the eyes from the equation, it gets much more difficult, more challenging. Maybe you start to feel a little bit weird. You have the option throughout any of these drills to actually decrease the challenge. You can go slower. It can be smaller. You can use a bigger target. The idea is to find kind of a challenging movement that you can do, but one that is relatively comfortable, because obviously we don’t want you to feel bad after you do these.
Now you can take this to another level, should you choose to, by adding in some head tilt to it. One of the interesting things about the utricle is that it senses not only motions like this and forward and backward movement, it also senses head tilts. Another level to this drill would then be to focus on your target, tilt the head, focus on the target and then move side-to-side. And then switch, head tilt, move side-to-side. Your last layer then, you could do that with one eye at a time using an eye patch or whatever.
Now again, we’re just kind of throwing these out there as options for you. I have no idea what your inner ear is like, what your balance system is like. Your number one rule here is you have to be safe. If you get any kind of dizziness, you probably should stop. Either reduce the speed, reduce the range of motion, reduce the intensity, like the challenge of the visual system. And if you still feel bad, you need to stop completely. Talk to your healthcare provider. Make sure there’s nothing contraindicated for you.
However, these are very powerful simple drills. In terms of your goals, the idea would be to work up to roughly 30 seconds to a minute of each iteration of the drill. Again, find the one that’s challenging for you. If you can do this for a minute and your visual system’s never feeling challenge, you’re never feeling any discomfort from it or any balance challenge, I think that’s too easy for you. You again progress your way through, trying to find what is challenging, but still feels safe. And then aim to do that maybe 30 seconds to a minute several times a day.
Give this a shot. If you have any questions about it, please let us know. Otherwise, good luck with this, and hopefully you will find it will have a tremendous impact on your balance, as well as your performance.