Fitness for the eyes

Fitness for the eyes

Fitness for the eyes: an introduction to orthoptics

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. ginnastica_oculare_ENG.jpg

Move your eyes from side to side Re­peat this sev­er­al times for the di­rec­tion­al move­ments of the eyes. ginnastica_oculare2 copia ENG.jpg

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. ginnastica_oculare copia eng.jpg

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 ginnastica_oculare6 copia eng.jpg

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:

  1. Raise one fin­ger just a few cen­time­ters in front of your eyes and fo­cus on it.
  2. Slow­ly move your fin­ger away from your face and main­tain fo­cus on it.
  3. Shift your fo­cus into the dis­tance for a mo­ment.
  4. Fo­cus on your fin­ger again and slow­ly bring it back to­wards your eyes.
  5. Shift your fo­cus into the dis­tance again. Re­peat the ex­er­cise mul­ti­ple times. ginnastica_oculare4 copia 2 ENG.jpg

Ex­er­cise 2: Fig­ure Eight For this ex­er­cise, you will move the mus­cles of the eye more than you might or­di­nar­i­ly.

  1. Sit­ting down, find a point on the floor about three me­ters (or yards) away and fo­cus on it.
  2. Imag­ine your­self draw­ing a fig­ure eight on the floor at that dis­tance.
  3. 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.