What is the Vestibular Sense? Understanding the “Balance” Sense
At every age, senses help with more than just seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and hearing. Senses play an important role in everything from staying balanced, to riding a bike, to knowing when we’re hungry and thirsty.
Here we’ll dive into the vestibular sense, also known as the balance sense. Learn more about all the senses by visiting our sensory page, or read about proprioception (the body awareness sense) and interoception (the internal sense).
What is the vestibular sense?
The vestibular sense, also known as the movement, gravity and/or balance sense, allows us to move smoothly. We are able to maintain our balance while engaged in activities because of this sense. While vestibular helps us with balance while we walk and run, it also helps us stay upright when we sit and stand.
Where does the vestibular sense come from?
Believe it or not, the vestibular sense actually comes from parts of the inner ear! Our sense of balance comes from our inner ear communicating with the brain. Together, they help us to have a sense of balance and orient to the space around us. This helps keep you standing up straight and remaining in place.
What are some examples of the vestibular sense?
- Holding up head: A great early indicator of baby’s vestibular skills is the ability to hold up their head! This sense helps to develop neck strength, which is important in early development.
- Learning to walk: Baby is able to balance and take their first steps because of the vestibular sense! They are able to begin walking once they feel balanced, and strengthen their balance sense as they get the hang of it.
- Riding a skateboard: We are able to balance on the board, bend knees at the right time, and stay upright using this sense.
- Sliding down a slide: Because slides often have bends and curves, we use our vestibular sense to go down a slide and enjoy the ride instead of becoming dizzy and disoriented.
- Walking on a curb: We maintain balance while walking on an uneven surface and adjust to keep our body balanced.
What are signs your child may have a vestibular issue?
When children have a vestibular issue, they may feel physically unbalanced or not in control of their body. This may lead to clumsiness or awkward movements. They may not be able to tell if their body is stable and may fall frequently or have a hard time navigating uneven ground (like curbs and steps). They also may not enjoy childhood activities like swinging or riding a bike because they feel unstable while doing it. Vestibular issues can also sometimes cause dizziness or even nausea.
Some vestibular issues can present as motor issues, so be sure to consult a healthcare provider to learn more.
How can you help develop baby’s vestibular sense?
- Do baby massage: The rocking of Massage+ 30, 10, 5 directly benefits baby’s vestibular sense.
- Rock and swing baby gently: When baby moves, they are able to stay oriented through their vestibular sense.
- Carry baby in a variety of positions: Changing baby’s position provides a good challenge to their balancing abilities.
- Keep baby active with baby games: Baby learns balance as they move and grow! Keep them moving and practicing balance through baby games.