The Dizzy Discussion: Exploring the Science Behind Spinning Sensations

Mar 19, 2024

Do you remember the joy of spinning around as a child until the world became a dizzying blur? For many of us, this playful activity was a staple of childhood fun. But have you ever wondered why some children seem immune to the dizziness induced by spinning? Some children choose to spin and spin and show no signs of dizziness. Others may only spin once and fall over. 

At the heart of the dizzying sensation lies the vestibular system, playing a crucial role in maintaining our sense of balance and spatial orientation, ensuring that we can navigate the world with ease. I often refer to it as our GPS or gyroscope not only informing us which way is up but also which way to go to reach the toy/ friend on the playground or even to form the letter 'a' on a page. 

Central to the vestibular system are the semicircular canals, fluid-filled channels that detect rotational movement. When we spin, the fluid within these canals is set into motion, triggering hair cells (cilia) to send signals to the brain. These signals provide information about our heads position and movement in space

So why do some children appear unfazed by spinning, while others quickly feel dizzy? The answer lies in a combination of factors, unique to each child's nervous system. 

Firstly, adaptation plays a significant role. Just as our muscles adapt to physical exertion with regular exercise, our vestibular system can adapt to repeated stimulation. Children who frequently engage in activities involving spinning may develop a greater tolerance over time, reducing the intensity of dizziness

Secondly, individual differences in sensory processing contribute to the variation in experiences of dizziness. Some children may have a naturally higher threshold for detecting vestibular stimuli or have more effective capacity for integrating sensory information from different sources.

The role of visual input is paramount. Our visual system acts as a stabilising force, helping to reconcile conflicting signals from the vestibular system and other sensory modalities. Children who maintain a steady gaze or are more visually focused may experience less pronounced dizziness during spinning.

Finally, experience plays a pivotal role. Regular engagement in activities that involve spinning or rapid movement can assist the nervous system develop a greater familiarity with the sensations associated with spinning, leading to habituation and a reduced propensity for dizziness. However, for children with low thresholds to vestibular input, particularly aversion to movement causing visceral responses and possible vomiting, added 'practice' may not help but make this worse. 

In conclusion, the dizzying sensation induced by spinning is a complex interplay of sensory signals from the vestibular system, visual system, and others. Whilst spinning may be fun for some, it's not for all, and unless as an OT you have received additional training in sensory integration theory and practice, spinning should be avoided in therapeutic settings. 

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