Sports Vision

Athletic Performance and Motion Sickness

Why those who suffer from motion sickness often have difficulty playing ball games up to their potential and how their athletic skills improve when their motion sickness is cured.

Have you ever known of “klutzes” who frequently completely missed the ball when attempting to hit a tennis ball?  Or one who would jump out of the way or flinch and cover their face with their hands for self-protection when someone throws a ball to him or her?  Few of us have observed this behavior because the “klutzes,” whether they are children or adults, soon give up trying.

The danger of being hit by a ball or embarrassed in front of friends is great.  “Klutzes” either take up a sport that doesn’t involve catching or hitting a ball, or give up sports altogether.  For many of these people, most of whom are female, also tend to trip on things and run into furniture and doorways.  They also frequently knock things over when reaching for them and lose their place when reading.  If these people also suffer from a fairly severe degree of car sickness and are very light sensitive, they very well may have the SEE Sick Syndrome and the functional tunnel vision that goes along with it about 50% of the time.    It is estimated that about 6% of adult females, 1% of adult males, and fewer children have at least some degree of the SSS.

The good news is that in approximately 80% of these cases, this condition can be cured with Dynamic Adaptive Vision Therapy (DAVT).  This same therapy is also effective in eliminating more mild degrees of simple motion sickness.  Since 1965, a great many people from the ages of 9 to 82 have successfully completed the therapy.  A side benefit for many has been a subtle or dramatic improvement in athletic endeavors.

Approximately 50% of SSS individuals suppress their peripheral vision and develop “functional tunnel vision.”  Much of the motion that one observes is seen with ones peripheral vision—like when riding in a car or walking or running by objects.  After only a few days of DAVT, most patients develop a more normal peripheral awareness, which is sometimes startling to them at first.  Comments such as, “I can now see my shoulders while looking straight ahead,” or “I feel like I have eyes in the back of my head,” are not uncommon.  Patient Lynetta M. said after her therapy, “As a self-protection mechanism, I had developed tunnel vision so bad that I know I was dangerous at driving.  On the freeway I could only see the trunk of the car ahead of me.  I trusted the other drivers to watch out for me.  Now (post therapy) I can comfortably drive because I no longer need to have tunnel vision.  I can now see cows on both sides of the road at the same time!”

Another patient, Sandra T. commented about her tennis game after just one week of therapy—“I can hit the ball every time now.  I usually missed it completely before.  I always thought that I was looking at the ball but I guess I wasn’t.  My husband can’t believe how I can play now.”

Many SSS patients complain that when trying to hit or catch a ball that “it just disappears when it gets close to me.”  The reason for this is that the ball is observed through the central “tunnel” initially but as it approaches, as with non SSS persons, fixating on the ball with central vision is no longer possible and the ball disappears in the peripheral “blind” zone.  These people are hopeless when it comes to attempting to play any ball game where they have to hit or catch a moving ball.  Even with great motivation and months of lessons and practice, they never advance beyond beginner status until they eliminate their unrecognized visual handicap.  However, their skills often improve rapidly after doing DAVT.  Excerpts from a letter from 22 year old Darrell B. illustrates this point. “For about the past 10 years, I’ve had difficulty with reading, riding in cars, boats and trains.  Most everything that moved made life uncomfortable….As for involvement with sports, I hated all games that had balls.  My dad insisted that I play baseball, basketball, football and tennis, all of which had the same effect.  I seldom hit or caught the ball and spent a lot of time on the team bench.  When I water skied, I got nauseous.  To even get up on the skies, I closed my eyes and concentrated on the “form” of other skiers.  But after getting on my feet and opening my eyes, down I’d go.  I would go trap shooting once in a while with my brother.  He figured that I usually hit 7 out of 100 birds.  About a month after my training, I went out again and hit 52 out of 60.  I beat my brother and his friend for the first time.  Before, the birds would just disappear but now they don’t …I used tunnel vision, so I saw one thing at a time.  Dancing made me sick when I moved fast or did circles, so I didn’t dance…I can now do things I wanted to do during the past years.  I hit and catch the ball much better than before, and I can also read a book from cover to cover without experiencing eye and head pain”.

Even mild SSS patients feel “off balance” when jogging or riding a bicycle.  Wearing high heels or walking on a narrow board is usually impossible.  The more severely affected often have frequent episodes of dizziness and disturbed balance.  Sometimes these patients experience nausea, especially when walking, turning around, or bending down.  They tend to touch things for support and sometimes take their shoes off to grip the floor with their toes.  The floor sometimes appears to be slanted or wavy.  A nine year old boy described it as, “walking on water with a little boat on each foot.”  In addition, headaches are often frequent or constant.  Obviously, even athletic activities where no ball is involved, such as exercise classes, are out of the question for these people.

Even simple mild to moderate motion sickness has an adverse effect on some athletic performances, especially at an elite level.  Excerpts from a letter written by Dan B., a former starting player on a Division II national championship soccer team, help illustrate the point.  “For as long as I can remember, I would always get sick driving in a car.  As a very young child, our family lived on a small island in the Caribbean, and the winding roads left me sick all of the time. I just treated it as a normal everyday occurrence.  Whenever we went to a carnival or to a playground, I had to avoid any of the rides, especially the merry-go-round, because it would leave me ill for hours afterward.  I would always get sick on boat trips but again merely attributed it to normal circumstances.

The national sport in the Caribbean was soccer, so I began playing it at a very young age.  I really love the sport.  At times, however, when I had to make a quick spinning move or had to back pedal while looking over my shoulder, I would get slightly off center; it seemed to take a second for me to get my bearing afterward…

Even in college, as my play progressed, I still had some trouble when I had to spin around quickly and would get sick when we went on the road.  During fall quarter we would be traveling the week before finals for the playoffs, so many guys on the team would study or read while in the van.  I couldn’t do it.  I could never read in a moving vehicle for more than ten seconds without getting sick.  In the early part of April, while undergoing a routine eye examination, I was diagnosed having the See Sick Syndrome.  When Dr.  Gillilan would swing that ball and ask me to follow it, I would get sick—just like when I would try to read in a car.  To my surprise I found out that I did not have to be ill while reading in the car and that some of my uncomfortable moments on the soccer field could be remedied as well.  I was a graduate student at the University of Oregon at the time, and my school work required that I spend a considerable time at the computer.  Whenever I used the CRT’s the scrolling of the lines would make me nauseous, sometimes so much that I would sign off and use the slower printer terminals instead.  This could also be helped I was told.

After the exercises I was surprised at the differences they made.  I traveled frequently to Seattle and could never read in the car, so I wasted a lot of time that could have been productively used.  After the first week of exercises I made a trip to Seattle on the weekend and could read in the car all the way up.  I was so amazed that I didn’t get sick.  I told my in-laws all about it, and they looked at me sort of strangely—as if to say “big deal.”  We read all the time in the car!  Anyway, to me it was a major accomplishment and worth the money for the exercises in itself.  

Also, when I returned to the computer terminal, the scrolling on the screen did not bother me as much, and I could finish my work at one sitting-without having to switch terminals.

The greatest benefit, though, has been on the soccer field.  I only wish I had gone through the program before going on to play college ball.  I was playing on a local team at the time and therefore was able to monitor my progress.  Obviously it would be foolish to say that I am a fantastically better player now.  There are too many intricacies in the game, and skill is based on more than foot coordination.  But I noticed some improvement in more subtle areas of the game.  I played in a defensive position, which I did not do much in college.  This position requires, at times, the ability to control the ball while in full sprint backwards to one’s own goal.  A sloppy trap or a missed trap, and the offensive player can steal the ball and wreck havoc.  As mentioned before, whenever I had to spin around, then run backwards while looking over my shoulder for the ball or to see where the other team players were, there was that split second of uneasiness, a feeling of being off center somewhat.  Through the eye exercises and some spin exercises this phenomenon disappeared.  I now am able to spin quickly in either direction without feeling that loss of position or direction.  

Another part of the game I have improved upon is my ability to read the ball.  This has been helpful in situations where control is critical.  As an offensive player in college, often the difference between a close call and a goal was the ability to instantly gain control and then put the ball away.  To do this required the ability to control the ball even when it did not present itself to you like you would want.  Sometimes it would have an erratic spin to it, especially if it just came out of a collision between players.  If you could read the spin on the ball, you could adjust your body so that when you tapped it, control was instant.  After the exercises, I could even read the label of the ball as it spun towards me.  It was easier to determine how fast the ball was spinning and which way it was likely to curl.  Since my eye tracking improved, I was able to follow the ball better and would watch it until it contacted my body rather than rely only on my instinct for control.  This was especially helpful for controlling head balls.

My defensive play improved because I could turn quickly in either direction to read the field without the feeling of discomfort.  The eye exercises improve the quickness in eye movement, so I was better able to track the ball when kicked at high velocity nearby.  I didn’t “lose” it.

I do not mean to imply that the eye exercises are a panacea for what may ail someone in a sport, but at a high level of skill, the difference between the average player and a very good player is their ability to read or react in a split second to a given situation.  The eye exercises have been a great help to me, both in helping with nausea in reading or driving a car and in improving my ability to perform on the soccer field.”
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Presented by invitation to the American Optometric Association Sports Vision Section Symposium – Feb.  1989