Balance and the Hidden Neural System to Lower Back Pain

Published On - 24 July, 2023By Alina Butunoi

Balance and Vestibular System Affect Lower Back Pain

Your lower back pain might be due to a vestibular system and balance. Learn more about the connection in this helpful guide.

Around 23 percent of the world’s population struggles with chronic back pain. There are many treatment options when it comes to this pain; however, not all treatments are created equal. Some common treatments include physical therapy, pharmacological interventions, spinal manipulation, and more.

But, have you considered that the cause of your back pain could be your vestibular system? Addressing back pain through this route can help reduce pain and get you back to life.

Keep reading to learn more about your vestibular system and its connection to pain.

Understanding the Vestibular System

The vestibular system is a complex network of nerves and structures located within the inner ear. Its primary function is to help us maintain balance. It does this by processing sensory information related to our body’s position in space.

The vestibular system comprises two main components:

  1. The semicircular canals
  2. The otolith organs

Together, these structures work seamlessly with other systems in our bodies, including vision and proprioception (our ability to perceive where our body is in relation to its surroundings). By integrating this information from different sources simultaneously, we’re able to stay upright and balanced. Even when standing still or moving around.

The Semicircular Canals

The semicircular canals are a crucial component of the vestibular system. They play an essential role in maintaining balance and spatial orientation.

These three fluid-filled tubes, located in the inner ear, detect rotational movement. They help us maintain stability during various activities.

Each canal is positioned at a right angle to the others, allowing them to sense movements across all three planes:

  • Horizontal (yaw)
  • Vertical (pitch)
  • Anteroposterior (roll)

his arrangement ensures that our brain receives accurate information about head position and motion.

As we move our heads, endolymphatic fluid within these canals shifts accordingly. The flow of this fluid stimulates hair cells lining the walls of these structures.

These hair cells then transmit signals through nerve fibers to the brainstem. There they are processed further for balance control.

In essence, the semicircular canals act as biological accelerometers by detecting angular acceleration caused by head rotations. This remarkable system enables us to navigate our surroundings effectively while simultaneously protecting us from potential injuries due to falls or loss of balance.

The Otolith Organs (Utricle and Saccule)

The Otolith Organs, also known as the Utricle and Saccule, are two small sacs located within our inner ear. These organs play an essential role in maintaining balance and detecting changes in head position.

Inside each of these tiny sacs are thousands of tiny hair cells embedded in a gelatinous fluid. When we move or change positions, this fluid shifts around and moves the hair cells. This action sends signals to our brain about our body’s orientation.

The Utricle detects horizontal movement and is responsible for keeping us balanced when we’re still or moving at a steady pace. On the other hand, the Saccule detects vertical movement. For example, jumping up and down or going up an elevator.

The Role of the Vestibular System in Maintaining Appropriate Flexion/Extension Synergy in the Spine

The vestibular system is not only responsible for our sense of balance, but it also plays a crucial role in maintaining appropriate flexion/extension synergy in the spine.

When we move, our muscles work together in a specific sequence to maintain proper alignment and prevent injury. The vestibular system’s input ensures that this sequence is maintained by activating both lateral and medial vestibulospinal tracts.

The lateral tract provides excitatory input to extensor muscles on one side of the body while inhibiting flexors on that same side. In contrast, the medial tract provides excitatory input to flexor muscles on one side while inhibiting extensors on that same side.

This delicate balance between extension and flexion is essential for preventing lower back pain caused by improper movement patterns or muscle imbalances. By ensuring proper neural activation through feedback from the vestibular system, we can reduce pain and improve overall function during movement activities.

Lateral Vestibulospinal Tract

The lateral vestibulospinal tract is a neural pathway that originates in the vestibular nuclei of the brainstem and travels down to the spinal cord. This pathway plays an important role in maintaining balance and posture, particularly during movement.

When we move our bodies, sensory information from the semicircular canals and otolith organs in our inner ear is transmitted through the vestibular nuclei and into the lateral vestibulospinal tract. The tract then sends signals to motor neurons that control muscles throughout our body. This helps us maintain proper alignment and coordination.

Dysfunction within the Lateral Vestibulospinal Tract can contribute to issues such as lower back pain. When there are imbalances or disruptions within these pathways, it can lead to improper muscle activation patterns. This may cause strain on certain areas of your spine.

Medial Vestibulospinal Tract

The medial vestibulospinal tract is responsible for controlling the muscles of the neck and upper back. This pathway originates in the medial vestibular nucleus, which receives input from both the otolith organs and semicircular canals of the inner ear.

From there, signals are sent down to the cervical spinal cord. There they synapse with neurons that control muscles in these areas. By maintaining appropriate muscle tone and alignment, this system helps to prevent strain and injury to the lower back.

Reducing Pain

Reducing pain is the ultimate goal for anyone suffering from lower back pain, and taking care of your hidden neural system can be a great way to achieve it. This system plays a crucial role in maintaining balance and motion control. These are essential to prevent strains and injuries that lead to chronic pain.

If you’re experiencing chronic pain that doesn’t go away, it could be time to try another path. It’s time to stop treating the symptoms and address the root cause of your pain.

This can help you begin to move forward and settle in.

Book an Appointment

The human body is fascinating; we continue to learn more every day. The vestibular system can impact your back and leave you in pain.

Are you ready to address your pain issues? Book your appointment with Align for Performance and start addressing your pain today.

About Author

Alina Butunoi

Alina Butunoi is one of Ottawa's most respected brain training and pain management practitioners. A previous nominee for the Ottawa 40 Under 40 business leaders, she is also a certified Movement Neurology Specialist with Z-Health, a cutting-edge neuro-exercise system that helps improve health, alleviate pain and maximize athletic performance.

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