The vestibular system is vital for maintaining balance and stabilizing gaze and vestibular damage causes impaired postural and gaze control. Here we examined the effects of vestibular loss and subsequent compensation on head motion kinematics during voluntary behavior. Head movements were measured in vestibular schwannoma patients before, and then 6 weeks and 6 months after surgical tumor removal, requiring sectioning of the involved vestibular nerve (vestibular neurectomy). Head movements were recorded in six dimensions using a small head-mounted sensor while patients performed the Functional Gait Assessment (FGA). Kinematic measures differed between patients (at all three time points) and normal subjects on several challenging FGA tasks, indicating that vestibular damage (caused by the tumor or neurectomy) alters head movements in a manner that is not normalized by central compensation. Kinematics measured at different time points relative to vestibular neurectomy differed substantially between pre-operative and 6-week post-operative states but changed little between 6-week and > 6-month post-operative states, demonstrating that compensation affecting head kinematics is relatively rapid. Our results indicate that quantifying head kinematics during self-generated gait tasks provides valuable information about vestibular damage and compensation, suggesting that early changes in patient head motion strategy may be maladaptive for long-term vestibular compensation.
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