Eyes and Balance

You may have heard that the eyes are windows into the soul. This is said many times in romantic movies but here we are going to say the eyes are windows into the nervous system. The eyes are one of the 3 big systems we use for balance.  We rely heavily on our eyes to get from point A to point B, look at different objects, and yes to have proper balance. When the eyes aren’t working correctly we can get different eye problems from strabismus’s, blurry vision, diplopia (double vision), and a feeling of off balance. When dealing with the eyes we can talk about vision and movement. We aren’t so much dealing with vision, even though this can be the case the better the eyes move, but we are talking about movement and different parts of the brain for movement. There are 2 basic eye movements that we are doing 1000’s of times throughout the day, these are known as pursuits and saccades (slow and fast eye movements). Think of when you read a book, left to right, and how you go slowly to the end of the line and quickly to the next line.  It is the combination of these slow and quick movements that allow us to function throughout the day.

Fast Eye Movements:

These movements allow us to go from one target to the next. This is very important for sports, when falling, and events in our everyday life. In the past we talked about our brains having maps of our entire body. This is crucial because it allows us to have proper awareness of our surroundings and stops us from bumping into objects, allows us to drive, and pick up a coffee cup. These same maps of our entire body are the same maps to do quick eye movements. If our fast eye movements are off this means our brain maps are off as well. This results in increases in pain, instability, tight muscles, or decreases in ROM (range of motion). 

In fast eye movements= Bad brain maps for eyes and body 

           In bumping into objects, injury, pain, tightness, etc.

An example of this would be when reaching for our morning coffee or walking into a room and we thank that the coffee cup or door is in one place but it rally is in another and this results in spilling our coffee or hitting the door. 

Slow Eye Movements:

This is important when talking about tracking or following an object. If we cannot do this properly we fall behind the target and we have to initiate a fast eye movement to catch up, but this eventually can lead to blurry vision or diplopia. If we are constantly having to play catch up this can be very tiring to the brain and can lead to us feeling more fatigued throughout the day or even eye strain. 

         In slow eye movements= blurry vision, headaches, eye strain, fatigue, etc

How exactly does it lead to instability issues such as balance?

When we cannot do one or either of the eye movements not only can our brain maps be off but we may also lose our balance or be at an increase risk of falls. We said that we are always using these eye movements throughout the day in some form or fashion. Not only is this very true but is may be in scenarios that we don’t think of. 

Driving a car: We need to know where other cars are around us and exactly where our car is as well. If this isn’t working we cant have fast eye movements to look from our left to right, we may miss judge how fast a car is going past us and we turn inappropriately, or when we are parking we may keep hitting on side of our car because we are misjudging where it really is. 

Running: When we are running we need to know and tack where the pavement or running trail is. If our slow eye movements are off we cannot track it well and we may not see the rock or pinecone in our way and we can twist an ankle. 

Working: Especially if our job requires us to be on a computer a lot these eye movements are very important. With decrease in these movements our natural reading from left to right can be thrown off and cause issues. The more we cannot use these movements properly in this scenario, and really all scenarios, the more at risk we are for eye strain, fatigue, double vision, etc. When we are doing any of the above-mentioned tasks our bodies need to have proper muscle tone to respond to these movements. When looking left to right, either fast or slow, if our brains cannot fire down appropriately to the muscle(s) of our spine proper stabilization fails and may cause muscle spasms, tightness, or pain. If it is bad enough when doing these eye movements we may fall to a side because we cannot respond to what the eye movements are doing and what we think is going on. 

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