Study on dancers helps doctors treat dizziness


The dancers at London's Central School of Ballet have been learning how to spin since they were children. They use a technique called spotting.

"Dancers don't get dizzy because they're finding that fixed spot and they keep returning to it, and that takes a lot of practice to actually keep the eyes, because their muscles as well have to keep returning to the same spot," said Stephen Williams, a senior tutor at the Central School of Ballet.

They make it look simple, but it doesn't come naturally.

"What seems difficult at first becomes second nature after a while. But again it just takes that long time to practice and get the 10,000 repetitions before the muscle starts to understand what it has to do by itself," said Williams.

Scientists say this long-term training has taught the brains of ballet dancers to suppress signals from the balance organs in the inner ear that alert them to feeling dizzy.

Researchers at London's Imperial College hope they can learn something from the dancers that will eventually help them treat patients for dizziness.

Volunteers were brought to Dr. Barry Seemungal's laboratory and were spun around in the dark. The research team also measured eye reflexes triggered by input from the organs in the inner ear.

"Dizziness is a sensation that is not produced by the ear. It's a sensation that's produced by the brain. In dancers, this network is less robust. So not only do they have this tap switching off the signal going to the brain, but when this signal arrives in the brain, the networks presence to produce the sensation is much weakened," said Seemungal.

Their results show that when people have repeatedly trained to focus and ignore certain signals, the brain starts to adapt.

Seemungal says the most common type of dizziness he sees is called BPPV, or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.

"BPPV is due to some crystals forming in the balance canals in the inner ear, and the treatment is simply to maneuver the head in a certain way to get the crystals out. And in 80 percent of treatments, 80 percent of the time the patient is successfully treated with one maneuver," said Seemungal.

Experts say for the many other causes of dizziness, the hope is that more research like the one studying dancers will help.

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