ORTHOPTICS AND FITNESS FOR THE EYES Fitness for the eyes: an introduction to orthoptics Vision training? Fitness for the eyes? Our eyes are supported by a fairly complex set of muscles, so it is actually normal that these muscles need to be kept in shape. You may already have heard of certain exercises for the eyes, or orthoptic exercises, but you may not know exactly what we’re talking about unless you’ve already had a need for such exercises. Orthoptics is a branch of ophthalmology that involves assessing, diagnosing, and treating disorders of the eyes by non-invasive techniques, as well as preventing issues in eye movement, glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, pathologies brought about by diabetes, and other neuro-ophthalmological disorders. Nowadays, orthoptics and ophthalmological care are increasingly being seen as important even at the level of general wellness. As a result, it’s not just people with vision problems who know what we’re talking about, and we are seeing an increase in the number of people who take care of their eyes and want to keep them in top shape. In addition, there are a great many problems that arise during childhood or as we get older and our eyes begin to lose their youthful muscle tone. Especially now, as we spend hours in front of our screens, eat poorly, and spend extended periods of time out in the bright sun, we are all at greater risk of becoming afflicted by disorders of the eyes.
ORTHOPTICS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF EYE MOVEMENT Orthoptists are medical professionals specialized in the study of ocular motility and the development of the eyes generally. Through their efforts of diagnosis and analysis, medical science is able to identify dysfunctions in vision and in eye movement and alignment. This is why orthoptics is helpful for both children and adults. In addition to their ability to diagnose and interpret these disorders using optometric techniques, orthoptists are also experts in vision training. But before we take a closer look at how exercise can help to improve our vision, we must first note that, because there is not yet enough clear evidence as to the role exercises for the eyes play in improving vision, these exercises must first be discussed with a medical professional based on an in-depth eye exam by an optometrist.
THE ORTHOPTICS EXAM The first step is to arrange for an exam by a professional orthoptist. During this orthoptics exam, the eye care professional will check for any anomalies in the neuro-muscular system of your eyes by way of exams focused on the motor and sensory functions. Anomalies caused by alterations in the muscles or nerve deficiencies, which can give rise to pathologies of varying severity, such as low vision, strabismus, convergence insufficiency, double vision, or anisometropia, are just a few of the disorders that can be treated.
ORTHOPTIC EXERCISES Vision training arose as a medical treatment in 1855 in the form of a series of guided exercises to treat vision anomalies such as strabismus, amblyopia (lazy eye), and exophoria. However, contrary to what one might expect, these techniques are not so common today, because orthoptists and optometrists more often focus on diagnostics than on the therapeutic process. Therefore, it may be difficult to find orthoptists or optometrists who are convinced that eye exercise alone can help people to actually “throw away their glasses”. At the same time, though, it is not wrong to give exercises like this a try, so long as the proper approach is followed. Today, vision training deserves to be given another look and better developed, because it is an area that is seeing a great resurgence in interest among the general public. In order for eye exercises to contribute to maintaining and improving vision health, it is necessary, first and foremost, for eye care professionals to work closely with their patients.
EYE EXERCISES: WHO THEY ARE FOR Orthoptic exercises may be done with or without the use of special equipment. The goal is to reeducate the motor and sensory functions of the eye, and these exercises should only be considered when your doctor is certain they can alleviate symptoms or improve vision health. This is why orthoptic exercises are not recommended in cases in which prolonged use of the eyes is to be avoided. This is also true for situations of low vision, blindness, or corneal lesions in one or both eyes. At the same time, patients with near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, or glaucoma will see little or no benefit from vision training. It is also strictly necessary for patients to be of good health — meaning not in need of particular medical assistance or other care — and motivated to continue the exercises at home and to schedule regular appointments with the eye care professional. A vision training routine is not without risks, so doing eye exercises alone and incorrectly can lead to convergence anomalies and cause other issues that may even be quite serious. This is why we highly recommend doing advanced orthoptic exercises solely with the help of a trained physician.
ORTHOPTICS AND VISION TRAINING There are neuro-ophthalmological specialists out there who practice “vision training”. It is a field that encompasses a diverse range of treatments, which are to be done only under the supervision of an optometrist, an ophthalmologist, or other eye care professional. Vision training includes exercises that focus on a range of different goals. Of course, the primary objective is always that of better health and proper functioning of the eyes, which may be achieved by reeducating and strengthening the muscles of the eye. Training may take place in stages and typically begins by helping the patient to unlearn improper behaviors involving the eyes.
ORTHOPTICS AND EYE EXERCISES For hundreds of years, people have believed that exercises for the eyes can be a natural treatment for vision problems. However, not much scientific evidence has emerged to confirm this belief, so the practice has largely gone undeveloped. Nonetheless, while eye exercises may not be the cure, they certainly can alleviate eye strain and contribute to the overall health of the eyes. Generally speaking, eye exercises are recommended for those whose eyes get irritated at work for a whole series of potential causes. One of the most typical cases nowadays is what we call computer vision syndrome, or “digital eye strain”. This condition is very common among people who work at a computer all day. The most common symptoms of computer vision syndrome are dry eyes, blurry vision, headache, and tiredness, but may also include other issues that have yet to be fully studied, such as aura. However, all orthoptists agree that certain simple eye exercises can help prevent and alleviate these symptoms. So follow our tips and tricks and learn how to train your eyes with a variety of exercises to meet your specific needs.
GETTING READY FOR EYE EXERCISES: TIPS AND TRICKS If your orthoptist or other eye care professional has recommended certain eye exercises, you may then start to think about how best to prepare for your vision training routine. Here are a few simple tips. Blink your eyes Eyelid stimulation, i.e. opening and closing your eyes, helps to reduce any over-stimulation of the eyes and improves focus. By slowly closing your eyes and reopening them, you maintain proper hydration of the eye, which helps your eyes to relax.
Move your eyes from side to side Repeat this several times for the directional movements of the eyes.
Cover your eyes Sit in a comfortable chair in a room with the lights turned off, then rub your hands together to warm them up.
Close your eyes and then cup your hands and place them over your eyes, making sure that your fingers are close together so that no light filters through. Do not apply pressure to your eyes, and make sure you can breathe comfortably through your nose. This darkness will allow your eyes to relax, even if only for a few minutes. To maximize the beneficial effects, focus on the darkness and breathe slowly and uniformly through the nose. Imagine you are in a relaxing place, such as a sandy beach looking out over deep blue waters or atop a majestic, immovable mountain. Once you have managed to fully appreciate the darkness, remove your hands from your eyes, wait a few seconds, then repeat two more times, for a total of three repetitions. Massage the area around your eyes
Vision is the result of a series of anatomical functions, but we can help our eyes to work better. How? By treating them with care. This is why massaging the area around your eyes, as well as the rest of your face, is very important in order to stimulate and improve circulation in that area, while also helping you to be more ready for subsequent exercises. You can also massage your eyelids. To do this, you must first wash your hands thoroughly, then close your eyes and rub your eyelids in a circular motion with your fingertips for 50 to 100 seconds, applying delicate pressure.
Warm-cold compress To prepare a compress for the eyes, you will need two bowls: one with warm water and another with cold water. Dip the corner of a clean towel into the warm water and place it on your face so that it covers your eyebrows, eyelids, and cheeks. Let rest for three minutes, then repeat with another towel dipped in cold water. Repeat this cycle two or three times, and always end with the cold compress. The alternating temperatures on your face will open and close your pores, which helps to relax and reinvigorate the skin around your eyes. Finally, here are a few of the most common eye exercises, including the exercises of fusion and convergence.
Exercise 1: Focus Change Our eyes focus a bit like a camera. The Focus Change exercise helps us to “grease the gears” of our ability to focus. For this exercise, it’s best to be seated, either outdoors or in a fairly large room, in a place where you can concentrate without distractions. This is how the Focus Change exercise is done:
- Raise one finger just a few centimeters in front of your eyes and focus on it.
- Slowly move your finger away from your face and maintain focus on it.
- Shift your focus into the distance for a moment.
- Focus on your finger again and slowly bring it back towards your eyes.
- Shift your focus into the distance again. Repeat the exercise multiple times.
Exercise 2: Figure Eight For this exercise, you will move the muscles of the eye more than you might ordinarily.
- Sitting down, find a point on the floor about three meters (or yards) away and focus on it.
- Imagine yourself drawing a figure eight on the floor at that distance.
- Slowly trace this figure eight with your eyes in the same direction for 30 seconds, then reverse direction for another 30 seconds. Repeat the exercise multiple times.
Exercise 3: 20-20-20 Rule
This is a good exercise to keep in mind whenever you find yourself having to work long hours in front of a screen, whether it’s a computer monitor, a phone or tablet screen, or even the screen of a video camera. Eye strain happens when you have to focus on a single, bright object for extended periods of time. If you work all day at a computer, this 20-20-20 Rule can help prevent eye strain. To put it in practice, every 20 minutes, look at something else about 20 feet (6 meters) away for 20 seconds.
In conclusion In this article, we have sought to describe to you the wondrous complexity of our eyes. Our vision is that special way in which we humans discover and give value to the outside world. Because of this, it needs to be protected to the best of our abilities, with the help of glasses or contact lenses when necessary and of regular eye exams to understand how our vision is progressing, because many serious disorders of the eye may not produce evident symptoms. We always need to take account of our family history and to be aware of our own specific risks.
It is also necessary to wear polarized sunglasses regularly in order to protect our eyes from hazardous UV (UVA and UVB) rays and eat a balanced diet rich in healthy fats, antioxidants, and other nutrients, such as the vitamin A found in healthy quantities in carrots.