What Is The Vestibular System and Why Is It A Pivotal Sensory System?



  • The vestibular system in the inner ear is the grand modulator and integrator of all the sensory systems, because all other sensory systems are processed in relation to basic vestibular information.
  • The vestibular system is stimulated through movement involving linear movement (forward-backward), oscillation (up-down movement), inversion (head upside down) and rotary movement (rotation).
  • The vestibular system in the inner ear provides us with information about movement, gravity and changing head position, and gives us information about self and place, orientation of our bodies in space, and our overall relationship to earth.
  • Accurate processing of vestibular information is evidenced by good muscle tone, optimal postural control, good balance, eye stability, modulation of attention, and self-regulation of calming and behavioral control.
  • The vestibular movement system is the most powerful of sensations. Despite our unconscious awareness of this kind of sensory information, vestibular movement has long-lasting effects on learning, behavior and attention.
  • The vestibular system has strong neurological connections with the auditory system, with both systems being in close proximity as well as related in their evolutionary function of detecting vibration. The vestibular system is the “ear of the body” (low frequency vibrations known as movement) and the auditory system is the “ear of the environment” (high frequency vibration known as sound).
  • The vestibular system also has strong neurological connections with the visual system, best evidenced by the reflexive eye movements (visual nystagmus) that are elicited by rotary movement. Optimal vestibular functioning supports development of eye movements inclusive of visual tracking, visual locating, visual scanning, and visual focusing.
  • Delayed vestibular maturation correlates significantly with low muscle tone, diminished core strength and postural control, sensory-seeking/sensory–avoiding, attentional abilities, and emotional responsivity.
  • Vestibular movement activities should always be self-directed (rather than imposed by others) to get either a calming or arousing response, whichever is needed. 15 minutes of vestibular swinging can support attention for at least 2 hours, particularly when followed by deep-pressure proprioception (pushing, pulling, lifting, and jumping).
  • The vestibular movement system is the pivotal sensory system for all of us, regardless of our own individual sensory processing differences. So when in doubt, MOVE, MOVE, MOVE. Imbed movement in all learning. Imbed movement in all play. Imbed movement in all therapy. Never underestimate the power of movement.