Top-notch figure skaters can resist dizziness

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

figure skater balance
Even as a figure skater is spun around, flipped, or twirled, her trained sense of balance resists dizziness.

While regular folks like you and I get dizzy when we spin around in circles, apparently elite figure skaters rarely feel dizzy! Part of it has to do with learning to keep your feet in one spot, using a technique called “spotting” where you pick a point to focus on in the distance as you spin. Skaters can even keep count of their rotations by picking a mark on the ice as a point of reference.

Over time, figure skaters, and even ballet dancers, actually become physically resistant to dizziness in their brains. See, our sense of balance comes from inside our ears, where the “otolithic” organs contain crystals with hair-like nerve cells on the end of them that tell our brain where our head’s located in space. We feel dizzy when the little hairs keep moving after we spin around, since they basically make the brain feel like it’s still spinning around even though the body has stopped.

Eventually, the little balancing hairs inside a professional dancer or figure skater get used to the constant movement, so there’s barely a signal sent to the brain. This physical anti-dizzy adaption actually means that these dancers and skaters have shrunk their brains a tiny bit, because there’s no longer a need for the extra neurons (brain cells) that normally deal with dizzy signals from the ear.

Images courtesy of Sochi 2014.