Dancers 'key to treating dizziness'
Published 27/09/2013 | 00:36
Ballet dancers who perform pirouettes could hold the secret to treating chronic dizziness , scientists have claimed.
Researchers found differences in the brain structure of ballet dancers which is thought to help them perform the technical spin without feeling dizzy.
The findings suggest dancers can suppress signals in their body which cause dizziness through years of training, according to experts at Imperial College London.
Scientists at the university hope the research could help to improve treatment for patients with chronic dizziness, which affects about one in four people at some time in their lives.
Dr Barry Seemungal, from Imperial College London's department of medicine, said: "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."
Researchers at Imperial College London recruited 29 female ballet dancers and 20 female rowers whose age and fitness levels matched the dancers.
The volunteers were spun around in a chair in a dark room. After they stopped moving, they were asked to turn a handle in time with how quickly they felt they were still spinning.
Scientists measured the volunteers' eye reflexes triggered by signals from the vestibular organs in the inner ear, which control balance and cause the feeling of dizziness. Their brain structures were also measured with MRI scans.
The results showed that, in dancers, both their eye reflexes and their perception of spinning lasted a shorter time than in the rowers.
The area of the brain which processes signals from the vestibular organs was also found to be smaller in dancers, the study found.
Dr Seemungal said the research had indicated that testing in clinics on patients suspected to have chronic dizziness may need to be altered.
During the study, the rowers' perception of spinning closely matched their eye reflexes but this was not the case with the dancers, he said.
"This shows that the sensation of spinning is separate from the reflexes that make your eyes move back and forth," Dr Seemungal said.
"In many clinics, it's common to only measure the reflexes, meaning that when these tests come back normal the patient is told that there is nothing wrong. But that's only half the story. You need to look at tests that assess both reflex and sensation."
The study is published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.