Why Ballet Dancers Can Spin Without Getting Dizzy
SUNDAY, Sept. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Ballet spins are
breathtaking to watch but hard to do, and a new study suggests that
years of training help dancers' brains adapt so they can avoid
feeling dizzy when they perform pirouettes.
The researchers concluded that dancers are able to suppress
signals from the balance organs in the inner ear, and suggested
that their findings could help improve treatment for people with
chronic dizziness, which affects about 25 percent of people at some
point in their lives.
The study included 29 female ballet dancers and 20 female rowers
who were about the same age and had similar fitness levels. The
participants were spun around in a chair in a dark room. The
dancers experienced lower levels of dizziness than the rowers,
according to the study published online Sept. 26 in the journal
Brain scans revealed differences between the dancers and rowers
in two parts of the brain: the cerebral cortex, which is
responsible for the perception of dizziness, and an area in the
cerebellum where sensory input from the vestibular organs in the
inner ear is processed. The vestibular system includes hair cells
resting in fluid that detect sound and head movement.
The area in the cerebellum was smaller in dancers, scans showed.
This may be because dancers would be better off not using their
vestibular systems, relying instead on highly coordinated
pre-programmed movements, said study author Dr. Barry Seemungal, of
Imperial College London, in England.
"It's not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off
balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that
input. Consequently, the signal going to the brain areas
responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is
reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy. If we can
target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic
dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better,"
Seemungal said in a college news release.
The researchers also found that the rowers' perception of
spinning closely matched the eye reflexes triggered by vestibular
signals, but this was not seen in the dancers. The findings may
prove important for how doctors test patients with chronic
"This shows that the sensation of spinning is separate from the
reflexes that make your eyes move back and forth," Seemungal said.
"In many clinics, it's common to only measure the reflexes, meaning
that when these tests come back normal the patient is told that
there is nothing wrong. But that's only half the story. You need to
look at tests that assess both reflex and sensation."
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