Anatomy of the Vestibular System-Inner Ear

February 11, 2010


Our body’s vestibular system acts to maintain our balance and sense of equilibrium.  When this system is not functioning normally, it can make anyone feel like they’re on a ride, and I’m talking the not-so-merry-go-round.  The anatomy and physiology of the vestibular system is complex, comprised of the inner ear, nerves, the cerebellum, regions of the brain stem and brain, our eyes, and muscles throughout our body.  This post will be about the anatomy and function of the inner ear, or the peripheral vestibular system.

The inner ear is composed of the semicircular canals, the utricle and the saccule, cochlea, and the vestibulocochlear nerve.  There are three semicircular canals, which function to relay information to the brain and cerebellum about the speed of head movements.  The semicircular canals are filled with fluid, called endolymph.  When the head turns, endolymph flows, which causes tiny hairs in the canal to bend in different directions.  The direction in which the hairs bend, determines how the vestibular nerve is stimulated and consequently what message is sent to the brain about how the head is turning. The brain uses this information to help coordinate the movement of your eyes and head.  If this is not functioning properly, you can develop Cookie Monster googly eyes, or vertigo, and the eyes will not be able to appropriately move with the head.

The utricle and saccule, like the semicircular canals, sense where the head is in space.  They also orient us in relation to gravity.  The saccule senses vertical movement of the head, as in bouncing.  The utricle senses tilting of the head side to side and forwards and backwards.

The vestibulocochlear nerve, the 8th cranial nerve, relays information from the inner ear about our body’s position in space to the brain for interpretation and action.  It takes all information about our head’s position and movement and hearing to the brain and its related structures for interpretation and action.  It helps keep our eyes stabilized and moving in a coordinated manner while our head moves.

The coolest thing about our inner ear is that we have two and they both report back to the nerve about the same head movement.  This is called redundancy and another method in which our nervous system is flexible and adaptable.  So, if one is late to work or out sick, the other one is there to pick up the slack, and we can maintain our sense of equilibrium.



Physical Therapy Orthopaedic Specialist at Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System

My name is Monique Serpas, PT, DPT, OCS. I am a physical therapist and board-certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist practicing at the Southeast Louisiana Healthcare System in New Orleans, LA. I realize how difficult it can be to overcome an injury or manage a chronic condition and am focused on helping my clients achieve wellness through a physically active lifestyle. I treat orthopaedic, balance, and vestibular disorders and practice using a combination of hands-on manual therapy, therapeutic exercise, and education. This enables my patients to assist in their own recovery and injury prevention. I also have developed fall prevention and golf-related rehab programs in the past. I hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Concordia University Wisconsin (2008) and a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from Louisiana State University (2004). I am a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Louisiana Physical Therapy Association (LPTA), and the Orthopaedic and Neurology sections of the APTA.

If you want to connect beyond the blog, or click on the following social network icons:

Geaux2PT on Facebook MoniqueSerpasPT My LinkedIn SiteMy HealthGrades Profile DeliciousTechnorati StumbleUponMy Feedburner RSSEmail Me Klout



Physical Therapist at New Orleans' Touro Infirmary. I give my patients the information they need to live well.
Rode 1 sec. Started Cycle for Time at 11:39 AM, - 8 months ago
, , , , , ,

Subscribe & Connect

Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates. Your e-mail will never be shared with any 3rd parties.