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Ballerinas are Immune to Dizziness, Research Suggests

Research shows that ballet dancers aren’t only masters of graceful movements and remarkable dance footwork, they are also “dizzy-proof” individuals.

A recent study was made to distinguish the significant differences in the ballerinas’ brain structures that enables them to avoid feeling dizzy whenever they’re executing an endless set of spinning movements.

The research strongly suggests that many years of training have allowed their brains to adapt and develop a way to repress the signals that are transmitted by the balance system in their inner ear, a signal that makes an individual feel light-headed and cause them to lose their sense of balance.

This finding, which was published in the Cerebral Cortex journal, could help to develop a better treatment for the patients who suffer from chronic dizziness, a condition that affects an estimate of one out of four individuals at one point of their lives.

Normally, the feeling of light-headedness originates from the vestibular organs in the inner ear. This fluid-filled structure can sense the rotation of an individual’s head through the use of the tiny hairs – which can sense the movement of the fluid.

After a cycle of rapid spinning, the fluid located in the vestibular system keeps on moving even after a person stops moving, which sends the sensation like you’re still spinning.

Ballet practitioners are capable of performing endless counts of spinning movements with little-to-no dizziness. The research mentioned above proved that the ballerinas doesn’t just rely on “spotting” – a technique used by dancers to avoid the feeling of light-headedness while perform spinning movements, which requires the dancers to move their heads rapidly to fix their eyes on the same spot.

Ballet

To prove the findings mentioned above, 29 female ballet dancers and 20 female rowers of the same age and health condition were requested to participate in a research done by the Imperial College of London researchers. The research subjects were spun around while they’re sitting in a chair inside a dark room. They were instructed to turn a handle in time with how fast they felt like they were still turning around after the spinning has stopped.

The researchers studied and measured the subjects’ eye reflexes triggered by the signals coming from the vestibular organs. Afterwards, they have also analyzed the brain patterns of the participants through the use of MRI scans. The ballerinas’ eye reflexes and their perception of spinning have declined faster in comparison with the rowers.

The Scientific American expressed their understanding with regards to the result of the study. “They were able to show that dancers had a decrease in the vestibular-ocular reflex. They moved their eyes less as they whipped around..And they also felt the turning less than controls. More importantly, the dancers’ sense of turning, and the vestibular-ocular reflex, were UNCOUPLED. They were not related to each other. So even though their eyes were moving in the reflex, they didn’t feel it!”

According to Dr. Barry Seemungal, a neurologist who studies the brain mechanisms of dizziness and its treatment “Dizziness, which is the feeling that we are moving when in fact we are still, is a common problem.”

Ballerina

“I see a lot of patients who have suffered from dizziness for a long time. Ballet dancers seem to be able to train themselves not to get dizzy, so we wondered whether we could use the same principles to help our patients.” He continued.

The brain scans revealed the significant differences in the brain structures between the two sets of volunteers. The dissimilarities are found in two parts of their brain: an area in the cerebellum, where sensory input from the vestibular organs is processed and in the cerebral cortex, which is in charge for the sensation of the dizziness. The area in the cerebellum was much smaller in the brain of the ballerinas.

Dr. Seemungal explained that this is because the ballerinas’ brains have adapted to avoid using their vestibular system, and instead relies on highly coordinated pre-programmed movements.

Seemungal stated that “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.”

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