by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
On June 4, 2006, the New York Times ran an article entitled: “Inner Ear May Take Beating From High-Impact Aerobics” It pointed out that the last thing on the minds of people jumping and bouncing to music is that they could be damaging their inner ears. Let me explain what can happen.
There are two separate causes of inner-ear damage. The first is that generally music is played at ear-damaging levels. Often the first symptom to appear is tinnitus or ringing in your ears. If you do not heed this warning, later you may notice that your ears begin to feel plugged or blocked, and if you get your hearing tested, you’ll discover to your shock and dismay, you now have a significant hearing loss. This may not happen all at once, but the longer you expose your ears to loud sounds, the quicker it will happen.
The obvious solution to prevent damage to the hearing part of your inner ears is to turn the music down to a level of 80 decibels or less. Failing this, wear ear plugs with a rating of 20 dB or more when you do your aerobics.
The second cause of inner ear damage is in the vestibular or balance part of your inner ears. Damage here can result in dizziness, vertigo, feelings of imbalance and motion sickness.
What happens is that with all the high-impact aerobics, the jarring of your head causes the “rocks in your head” (technically known as otoconia) to be jarred out of their normal place (the utricle in your inner ears) and bounce around in your semi-circular canals. Whenever one of these “rocks” touches the tiny hairs (cilia) there, it causes the cilia to generate a spurious balance signal that is sent to your brain. When you brain receives both good and bad balance signals it gets confused. That confusion results in the vertigo and other imbalance problems.
Activities that can cause such imbalance problems include high-impact aerobics that involve a lot of bouncing up and down with both feet off the ground at the same time, high-mileage running or when playing sports where a lot of jumping in involved such as in volleyball.
To minimize the chances of your developing balance problems, you can do three things. First, limit the time you spend on high-impact aerobics. You don’t have to stop these activities completely. Moderation is the key here.
Second, consider switching from high-impact aerobics to less jarring activities such as step exercises or low-impact aerobics where one foot is always on the ground.
Third, wear good shoes that are specially designed to absorb much of the shock of the above activities.