The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 08-25-2009, 03:37 PM
YogSosoth YogSosoth is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2008
How come when you close your eyes, you lose your balance?

Knowing that balance is controlled by stuff in your inner ear, I find it odd that whenever I'm trying to balance and close my eyes, it becomes really really hard. I have a theory on that, but don't know if its right. My thinking is that when you have your eyes open, you subtlely correct your body's movements by adjusting your body against a fixed position, and that you do this whether or not you are conscious of it. When you have your eyes closed, there is nothing but darkness to correct your position, so you lose your balance.
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 08-25-2009, 03:47 PM
picunurse picunurse is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Seattle
Posts: 11,467
Being unable to maintain balance with closed eyes is not normal

See your healthcare provider.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 08-25-2009, 03:51 PM
Giles Giles is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Newcastle NSW
Posts: 11,999
It's not just your inner ear that helps you keep balanced with closed eyes: it's also the pressure on your feet. To keep upright, you try to keep left and right, and front and back, balanced in pressure.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 08-25-2009, 04:10 PM
Superfluous Parentheses Superfluous Parentheses is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
I'm not giving out medical advice, and it does seem strange to me that you can't balance well with your eyes closed, but visual cues do play a fairly important part in balancing. Anyone who's been below decks on a ship in rough weather can tell you that - it's much easier to maintain balance on a tilting platform when you can see the horizon.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 08-25-2009, 04:24 PM
janeslogin janeslogin is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
I cannot do some common neurological tests with my eyes closed. Neurologist have a word for it and it is in my records so doctors don't ask me to do those tests.

I have often wondered what I should say if stopped by a cop and asked to do some of those silly have-you-been-drinking tests.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 08-25-2009, 04:41 PM
Squink Squink is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Quote:
Originally Posted by picunurse View Post
Being unable to maintain balance with closed eyes is not normal
Yes, and when you have some darn bug infesting your inner ear, and you have to rely on visual cues for balance, it takes up a hellish fraction of your total processing power to reject the ear's bad information and use the good stuff from the eyes.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 08-25-2009, 07:31 PM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Out of the slimy mud of words
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 6,963
Assuming the cerebellum* is intact, you need at least two of the following three things to keep your balance:

1. vision
2. intact vestibular apparatus (in the inner ear; basically a set of gyroscopes)
3. proprioception (awareness of the position and angles of your joints)

In the Romberg test, you close your eyes thus removing vision from the list. If either your vestibular apparatus or proprioception isn't working, you'll fall over.

Someone who falls over after closing their eyes, has done their own, positive Romberg test.

To help understand the good link above, I'll note that proprioception nerve impulses travel up the spinal cord in the so-called 'dorsal columns' (the back side of the cord). Disease or damage there, causes loss of proprioception.

*that separate part of the brain which, among other things, fine tunes all motor (muscle) activity and movement.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 08-25-2009, 09:38 PM
Spud Spud is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 1999
Damn... all these real answers make my "cuz you're drunk" answer seem a little shallow.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 08-26-2009, 01:45 AM
Lok Lok is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Northwest Ohio, USA
Posts: 2,533
Quote:
Originally Posted by picunurse View Post
Being unable to maintain balance with closed eyes is not normal

See your healthcare provider.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Superfluous Parentheses View Post
I'm not giving out medical advice, and it does seem strange to me that you can't balance well with your eyes closed, but visual cues do play a fairly important part in balancing. Anyone who's been below decks on a ship in rough weather can tell you that - it's much easier to maintain balance on a tilting platform when you can see the horizon.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Squink View Post
Yes, and when you have some darn bug infesting your inner ear, and you have to rely on visual cues for balance, it takes up a hellish fraction of your total processing power to reject the ear's bad information and use the good stuff from the eyes.
And I am going to agree with all three of these. Especially the first one. (And be prepared for some really wonderful tests of your inner ear and balance.) It took me 3 months to learn how to walk properly again, although that was mostly because the damage had progressed so far I was too dizzy to stand even with my eyes open.

As Squink says, it takes a lot of processing power to make up for bad or no information from your inner ear. I can easily tell when I am getting overly stressed or too tired these days, because I start stuttering, then the aphasia kicks in, then I have problems standing. This can make job interviews a real fun experience. If I ever get pulled over for DUI, I would have to insist on breathalyser or a blood test, because I can't pass most of the physical tests unless I have been practicing them.
__________________
Lok
----------------
"I am madly in love with Lok and wish to have his beautiful children. I also wish to leave my entire (quite subsantial) estate to him when I die, which might now be quite suddenly." - auRa
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 08-26-2009, 07:07 AM
aruvqan aruvqan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Eastern Connecticut
Posts: 15,446
Quote:
Originally Posted by Squink View Post
Yes, and when you have some darn bug infesting your inner ear, and you have to rely on visual cues for balance, it takes up a hellish fraction of your total processing power to reject the ear's bad information and use the good stuff from the eyes.
meh, I have had vestibular disfunction for decades ... it got me out of a lot of gym classes. I had way too many serious ear infections as a sprog. I just try not to close my eyes when I need to remain upright =)

I also always have bed swirlies even if I have not been drinking. I like bed swirlies =) I have been told that I would be perfect in space. I have no real defined up and down in my sensing organs, i rely on visual cues =)
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 08-26-2009, 11:41 AM
Lok Lok is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Northwest Ohio, USA
Posts: 2,533
Yes, but it sounds like you literally grew up with it. When you have went 40+ years with things working correctly, having to retrain parts of your brain to handle it suddenly is not easy. The longer I go like this, the easier it gets, but that is relative to when it first started.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 08-26-2009, 12:47 PM
imfloating imfloating is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
I've had inner ear problems for the past 8 years. I now use mostly my eyes for balance. I've become quite used to it, but seem to stagger and sway when walking the dogs at night when there aren't as many visual cues
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 08-26-2009, 12:53 PM
PoorYorick PoorYorick is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Quote:
Originally Posted by aruvqan View Post
I have been told that I would be perfect in space. I have no real defined up and down in my sensing organs, i rely on visual cues =)
I had a facial nerve infection (much fun) that jumped over and also kicked the hell out of my vesibular nerve. Although I can't walk with my eyes closed any more, I discovered that I no longer get nauseous when I read in a moving car.

Hey, one door closes, another opens, and all that jazz.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 07-15-2014, 04:30 AM
poidog00 poidog00 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2014
Balancing with eyes shut

I have to agree with the comment (theory) about vision allowing you fixate on a spot and subconsciously enabling you to have better balance. I had 3 perfectly sober, athletic, male (experienced skateboarders and surfers), attempt to balance on a wave board (roller board) with their eyes open and then starting over with their eyes shut. I bet them all a meager $1 that they couldn't balance on the wave board for more than a minute with their eyes closed. Why? Because, I attempted the same to take the boredom out of working on the wave board and found that it was much more difficult than expected. I suspected that it may be only me so I decided to attempt my own "Myth Busters" episode.

While we could all balance and roll side to side at will for as long as boredom would allow, with our eyes fixated on anything including the television, window, etc... attempts to do it with our eyes closed never extended beyond 5 seconds. It was the easiest $3 to come my way.

It was like learning how to do the wave board all over again, only more difficult. It's getting better with practice but there appears to definitely be a strong correlation between having sight and not having sight for balance, irregardless of point of focus.

Last edited by poidog00; 07-15-2014 at 04:31 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 07-15-2014, 05:17 AM
bob++ bob++ is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
I never experienced loss of balance in the dark until I had a bad attack of vertigo in my 60s. As most Dopers will know, vertigo has nothing to do with heights. My attack was similar to how I imagine zorbing would be.

I suffered from dizzy spells after that, gradually diminishing over time, but I lost all the hearing in one ear. I also found that balancing in the dark has become a problem. I too wonder what would happen if I had to take some of those police tests as I cannot stand on one leg for very long either.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 07-16-2014, 06:10 PM
FeAudrey FeAudrey is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2010
There are exercises to improve your balance; such classes are a staple in physiotherapy and at senior centers.

Sample regimen:

http://www.strongshape.com/balance-exercises.html
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 07-16-2014, 07:26 PM
monstro monstro is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Does anyone have any idea what the prevalence of a positive Romberg in the general population? I know it is "abnormal", but I'd like to know just how abnormal it is.

YogoSoth, I have a positive Romberg because I don't have great proprioception. So I bump into things and can't do all the cool moves in yoga class without propping myself up against the wall and keeping my eyes open. Oh yeah, and I will never be Michael Jackson. But other than being a weebly-wobbly klutz, I don't feel impaired in any way. But I do keep a doctor's report in my glove compartment in case I'm ever given a field sobriety test, though.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 07-17-2014, 08:34 AM
DSeid DSeid is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Quote:
Originally Posted by monstro View Post
Does anyone have any idea what the prevalence of a positive Romberg in the general population? I know it is "abnormal", but I'd like to know just how abnormal it is.

YogoSoth, I have a positive Romberg because I don't have great proprioception. So I bump into things and can't do all the cool moves in yoga class without propping myself up against the wall and keeping my eyes open. Oh yeah, and I will never be Michael Jackson. But other than being a weebly-wobbly klutz, I don't feel impaired in any way. But I do keep a doctor's report in my glove compartment in case I'm ever given a field sobriety test, though.
Not quite what you were asking for but a related tidbit that popped up doing a quick look for something about balance therapy - normative data on unilateral standing leg times with both eyes open and closed by gender and age.
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 11:20 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.