Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
EngineeringPostgraduate study

ISVR-HFRU-106: Mechanical stimulation of the vestibular system

Research Group: Human Sciences Research Group

Research Theme: Bioengineering and Human Factors

Project Description

Clinical balance (vestibular) disorders are highly prevalent and lead to falls that result in a huge cost to society. However clinical testing methods for vestibular disorders are crude. We do not have methods to accurately stimulate and test the function of the vestibular organs over a range of frequencies in order to assess exactly how they are affected by age or pathology. This makes it difficult to accurately diagnose vestibular disorders or to know how best to prevent falls caused by pathology or an aging vestibular system. The current project is a collaboration between the Human Factors Research unit and the Hearing and Balance Centre of the University of Southampton. It aims to combine expertise in applying well controlled vibration to the human body with clinical expertise in testing for balance disorders in order to develop new methods to assess human balance function. Existing test methods for balance disorders include rotational chair testing and the video head impulse test which attempt to apply motion stimuli to people in order test their vestibular function but the range of motions that can be obtained with such approaches are limited and when motions are manually applied to patients then they are not well controlled. The project aims to develop new test methods for the balance system by using a range of motions: from whole-body high displacement motion using large shakers to head-based small displacement acceleration with mini shakers using both linear and rotational motion. This will allow assessment of inner ear vestibular organ function in far greater detail than has previously been possible, opening the door to new clinical testing paradigms for patients with balance disorder. Recent research has demonstrated the principle of targeting the vestibular organs in the inner ear using vibration, but existing work has only used a limited range of small amplitude linear motions and has not used optimal methods to elicit motions in the skull. The current project makes use of advances in ways to couple motion to the body and new understanding of how to measure balance response using whole-body vibration. The long-term goal of the project is to better understand and test for vestibular disorders in patients. This could in turn lead to better targeted rehabilitation and treatment of patients suffering from balance disorder and may help to prevent falls. Currently the project has partial funding. We are currently seeking further funding, or partial self funding may be a possibility.

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Steven Bell, Human Sciences Research Group Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 4950.

Privacy Settings