Spinning 101 – Vestibular system

Pause for a dance break – I’m trying to quickly read a Neuroscience textbook, (1), to get a broader background understanding of myelin before getting back to the topic of protecting myelin, promoting regeneration, and preventing demyelination. The current section of the text is about our inner ear and sense of balance and it answered a question that I have heard somewhat frequently over the years – “How can you spin like that and not get dizzy or feel queasy?”

I did have a couple semesters of ballet training in high school. I didn’t get very good however I did learn the basic moves which include pirouettes (Youtube video: How to do a Pirouette) I have always enjoyed spinning and getting a little dizzy on the playground merry-go-round that you could get going fast if you pushed it around and then jumped on, was part of the fun of spinning, however I enjoyed learning the insider tips of how ballet dancers don’t get dizzy.

Vision is part of the dizziness and the inner ear is part of the queasiness of spinning. Ballet dancers are trained to keep a visual focal point on one wall and then half way through the spin quickly turn your head 180’/half way around a circle and find a new visual focal point on the opposite wall. Spin smoothly and gracefully at an even speed, slower for beginners, and picking up speed as you improve. Dancing with your eyes closed (page 320, 1) can be another way to remove the visual dizziness factor but then you can’t see where you’re going or if other dancers are nearby.

The Neuroscience textbook gives the real inside story – our inner ear senses acceleration and deceleration of sudden motions or change in motion. Nerves from the inner ear then send a strong nerve signal about those motions to the brain but in between the acceleration and deceleration the nerve signal returns closer to a normal level of relaxation or normal sense of motion. (pp 311-312, 1)

Spinning at an even pace can be very relaxing. Personally however I always felt more balanced in my body afterwards to ‘unspin’ – spin for awhile in the other direction. Likely it helped keep muscles strengthened evenly on both sides of my body as well as giving my inner ear a workout in both directions – each ear has a matching but in reverse/mirror image set of the tubules that include the vestibular system. (Figure 14.8, page 311, 1) (Spinning in both directions, smoothly with the knee in line with the foot can help strengthen muscles in the body evenly and protect the knees – additional note – spinning intensely without slippery dance shoes can twist the knee and may lead to injury. Stretching and strengthening exercise that focus on knee stability can also help reduce risk to the knees. (Dancers & Knee Pain).

Preventative health tip – listening to very loud music or having your ear buds set to a loud volume regularly is not only risking your sense of hearing but it may also be risking your sense of balance. Loud sounds and vibrations may over stretch the delicate hair cells which turn the vibrations of sound into electrical signals that can be sent along nerve signals to the brain and the vestibular system also uses hair cells to sense the changes in angle of the head or sudden acceleration or deceleration. Hair cells can not be regenerated once they are damaged which is why loss of hearing is a common risk of aging, one in three people tend to have hearing problems as they get older.

Problems walking, and increased risk of falling, and increased risk of developing dementia have been linked to hearing loss: The Hidden Risks of Hearing Loss. (2) The increased problems with walking and falling risk are not directly linked to vestibular changes, the two areas are separate, however sound is used to judge distance from objects and help orient us in our environment while walking. Social isolation due to not hearing well is thought to be involved with the increased risk for dementia.(2)(4) Hearing aids can help with some types of hearing loss.

Safety tips for preventing hearing or vestibular damage:

  • Wearing ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones around loud noises, (5), keeping the volume at a moderate level when listening to television or music can help protect hearing, (4) and not listening to ear buds with the volume set too loud can also help protect hearing. (5) Chronic exposure to loud noise as experienced by military personnel has found that symmetrical hearing loss may have correlated vestibular damage that isn’t clear due to the damage being equal on both sides. Asymmetrical hearing loss was found to be correlated with vestibular damage on the side with hearing loss. (6)
  • Avoiding head trauma can help both the inner ear vestibular hair cells and those involved in hearing.
  • Aminoglycoside antibiotics and a few other medications have an increased risk of causing hearing loss due to damage to the hair cells; mitochondrial DNA changes may be involved as the condition can then be passed on to children by a mother with aminoglycoside related hearing loss. Taking loop diuretics along with aminoglycoside antibiotics can increase the risk of deafness occurring and exeriencing loud noise levels while taking aminoglycoside medication can also increase risk of the hearing loss damage occurring. (3)

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

  1. Kesarwani P, Murali AK, Al-Khami AA, Mehrotra S. Redox Regulation of T-Cell Function: From Molecular Mechanisms to Significance in Human Health and Disease. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. 2013;18(12):1497-1534. doi:10.1089/ars.2011.4073. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3603502/ (1)
  2. The Hidden Risks of Hearing Loss, Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-hidden-risks-of-hearing-loss (2)
  3. Joseph Foster II, Mustafa Tekin, Aminoglycoside induced ototoxicity associated with mitochondrial DNA mutations. Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics, Volume 17, Issue 3, July 2016, Pages 287-293, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1110863016300325 (3)
  4. New study names hearing loss as one of nine risk factors for dementia, healthyhearing.com, https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52780-New-study-names-hearing-loss-as-one-of-nine-risk-factors-for-dementia (4)
  5. Headphones and your risk of hearing loss. audiorecovery.com, https://www.audiorecovery.com/blog/do-headphones-increase-your-risk-hearing-loss (5)
  6. Golz A, Westerman ST, Westerman LM, Goldenberg D, Netzer A, Wiedmyer T, Fradis M, Joachims HZ. The effects of noise on the vestibular system. Am J Otolaryngol. 2001 May-Jun; 22(3):190-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11351289 (6)