Exercise Your Inner Ear for Better Balance

Damage or deterioration to your inner ear can of course have an effect on your hearing. But what may come as a surprise to many people is that the inner ear is also largely responsible for your balance.

The vestibular system works with your vision and somatosensory system to transfer information to your brain to manage your balance. And any harm to this inner ear system can throw your motor skills off course or cause problems with vertigo or dizziness. The inner ear can suffer harm from whiplash, blows to the head, strokes, high does of certain antibiotics and even viral infections stemming from a common cold. The inner ear also gradually deteriorates as we age, just like many other parts of the body.

But just as hearing can be improved through various exercises, so too can your balance. Below are five inner ear exercises that can keep you squarely on your feet.

1. The Epley Maneuver

Small crystals of calcium can be found in the inner ear. And when those crystals become jarred loose, the result is often benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. Vertigo is a feeling of movement, dizziness or instability that can happen when standing up or tilting your head. There are different types of vertigo and BPPV is the most treatable one.

The Epley Maneuver involves rotating your head and body in ways that can move those loose crystals out of your inner ear and relieve the vertigo. A doctor or therapist can help you perform the Epley Maneuver, but it can also be done at home.

  1. Sit on the edge of a bed and turn your head slightly to the side that you think the vertigo is coming from. Place a pillow behind you on the bed.
  2. Quickly lie down on your back with your shoulders coming to rest on the pillow while your head is reclined. Maintain your head turn and wait 30 seconds.
  3. Turn your head slightly in the opposite direction and wait another 30 seconds.
  4. Now turn your head as far as you can in that direction, all the way into the bed if possible. Wait another 30 seconds and then sit up on that side.

*If you are unsure which side the vertigo is coming from, you can perform the Epley Maneuver from both directions.

Perform the Epley Maneuver three times per day and continue doing it until you have gone 24 consecutive hours without any vertigo. At this time, it’s likely safe that the calcium crystals have been moved out of the inner ear.

2. Semont Maneuver

The Semont Maneuver is similar to the Epley Maneuver and can be tried if the Epley proves unsuccessful.

  1. Sit on the edge of the bed and turn your head slightly in the opposite direction that you feel the vertigo is coming from.
  2. Quickly lie down on the opposite side of your body in which your head is turned. Wait for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Quickly flip over and lie down on your other side while maintaining the position of your head. Wait another 30 seconds and slowly return to a sitting position.

Just like the Epley Maneuver, you can perform the Semont Maneuver on both sides if you are unsure which ear is causing the vertigo. And also like the Epley, the Semont should be performed three times per day until 24 hours without vertigo has passed.

3. Foster Maneuver

The Foster Maneuver is also known as the “half somersault” and is another effective way of warding off vertigo and improving balance.

  1. Kneel on the floor and look up at the ceiling.
  2. Lower your head to the floor with your arms outstretched and tuck your chin between your knees. Wait for 30 seconds.
  3. Turn your head in the direction of the affected ear and wait another 30 seconds.
  4. Get on all fours and quickly raise your head so it’s level with your back. Maintain your head turn and wait 30 seconds.
  5. Quickly raise your head toward the ceiling while still maintaining your turn. Slowly stand up.

4. Brandt-Daroff Exercise

The Brandt-Daroff Exercise is very similar to the Semont Maneuver with just one minor difference.

  1. Start in an upright, seated position and then quickly lie down on one side with your head tilted at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Remain in this position until the vertigo subsides.
  3. Move back into the seated position and repeat on the other side.

Perform multiple repetitions of the Brandt-Daroff Exercise at least twice per day until you’re no longer experiencing any vertigo.

5. Vestibular Rehabilitation

If the do-it-yourself methods described above fail to alleviate your vertigo, dizziness or imbalance, you may wish to seek vestibular rehabilitation. While this type of therapy requires the involvement of a professional, home-based exercises remain a vital part of the program and your physician or therapist will customize a program specific to your complications.

Among the home-based remedies that may be prescribed as part of a vestibular rehabilitation program are habituation exercises. This involves identifying what sorts of movements or visuals trigger the vertigo and then exposing yourself to those things in order to stimulate the feeling. This repeated exposure trains the brain to ignore the abnormal signals it’s receiving from the inner ear, or in other words, to build a tolerance to those triggers.

Gaze Stabilization is another exercise common in vestibular rehabilitation programs that involves the inner ear. Gaze Stabilization requires a person to fixate on an object while moving the head back and forth or up and down to use vision and somatosensation — or body sense — to exercise a damaged inner ear system.

If you are experiencing balance problems or having bouts with vertigo or dizziness, the problem may be rooted in your inner ear. Consult a doctor for an inner ear exam or try the exercises above and bring some balance back into your life.

This content is not medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Christian Worstell has written about health and lifestyle topics for the last 15 years for newspapers, magazines and the Web.

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