The vestibular sense is involved with balance and equilibrium, awareness of the orientation of the head and body, and awareness of movement. The primary structures associated with the vestibular senses are found in the inner ear.
Body rotation, gravitation, and movement are perceived with the vestibular sense. An excessively stimulated vestibular organ in the inner ear results in motion sickness. Our vestibular system is the most connected sensory system in our body. It works alongside our other sensory systems (including proprioceptive sense) enabling us to use our eyes effectively and process sounds in our environment.
After birth, our vestibular system is often likened to the “brain’s traffic controller” for all the sensory information it receives. It sorts and relays incoming sensory information from other sensory organs and passes it onto to the various sensory regions of our brain.
A healthy vestibular system means:
- Good balance, which is especially important in surfing and paddling to maintain security on the water
- Ability to visually track objects or maintain a steady visual image while watching a moving object or watching an object while surfing in to shore
- Improved fine hand motor skills
- Ability to maintain posture with normal muscle tone – children may want to lie down or push against you or fidget while waiting
- Helps with coordination of both sides of one’s body, such as while zipping up the PFD
- Individuals regulating their own bodies
- Supporting language development by integrating auditory and visual senses
When our vestibular sense is fully functioning, we are secure and organized enough in our bodies to be able to attend and respond to all of the other senses we encounter daily. A child with a well-developed vestibular sense feels confident and safe during movement activities, even if their feet are off the ground. They are able to start and stop movement activities calmly and with control. They are comfortable climbing, surfing, paddling, jumping, and wiping out because they know their body will adapt and be able to maintain balance to keep from falling or getting hurt.
Some people have very sensitive or very active vestibular systems. Either can affect a person’s ability to participate in water activities.
Calming Vestibular Activities
- Slow rocking movements (slow dance)
- Lying or sitting with head still
- Swimming and floating while gazing at a static object
- Breast stroke
Exciting Vestibular Activities
- Jumping/ bouncing 20-30 seconds
- Vertical movement (up/down)
- Spinning games
- Swinging games
- Upside-down games