How the balance system works
The space orientation and equilibrium system work by using reference points and objects surrounding us; these reference points are controlled by some specialized receptors that tell our brain our position in space, and how we are moving in relation to those objects.
There are three different kinds of specialized balance receptors:
- Vestibular System receptors: located in the inner ear; inform the brain of the position and movement of the head in relation to space.
- Visual-oculomotor system receptors: located in the retina (eye), inform the brain about position and movement of eyes within the visual field.
- Musculoskeletal / somatosensorial system receptors: inform the brain about the movement of different parts of the body in relation to each other and the ground.
All of the information picked up by these receptors is then sent to the brain, which analyzes this information to create the appropriate motor responses in order to keep the images steady and clear on the retina and to keep the upright position. This is known as balance stability or equilibrium.
All three systems coordinate and partially correlate their information, some of these systems generate overlapping information, and this allows the brain to regulate, and even repair, itself. This regulation and repair is needed to keep space orientation and equilibrium in difficult situations such as boat trips or rollercoasters; these regulatory mechanisms even allow the brain to compensate for pathologies affecting one or more of the “balance systems”. This compensation can be achieved spontaneously or with the help of external stimulus such as Vestibular rehabilitation.