Crystal Healing that works?

December 21, 2020

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Alternative Medicine, Crystals

In one of our Facebook groups this week there was a recent discussion started by Donald Pettitt about his visit to a “crystal healer” to help with issues he’s been having with his balance:

“I've been having balance issues due to a head injury on my bike ride about 4 months ago.

I went to a crystal healer a few days ago. Turns out there is real science behind it!”

The post linked to a Mayo Clinic article (opens new window) explaining exactly what this healing is. In the ensuing conversation Jonny Grady, a committee member who I’m sure many of you have met, wrote a very nice summary of what this is all about:

There is some genuine science here, but also a lot of misinformation. The ‘crystals’ talked about here have absolutely nothing to do with the ‘traditional’ crystal healers (as I’m sure you all figured).

There are ‘otoconia’ (calcium carbonate crystals) in your vestibular portion of the inner ear which act to help detect linear acceleration of your head and your head’s general orientation in space in relation to gravity. The cavity they reside in acts a bit like a ‘snow globe’; if you tip a snow globe on it’s side, the ‘snow flakes’ inside will shift towards the bottom of the glass bulb under the force of gravity. If you tip your head on its side the otoconia will shift in a similar way, like sand cascading towards the lowest point in relation to gravity. Tiny sensory ‘hair cells’ (stereocilia) lining the bowl of the cavities (utricle and saccule) detect this change in the alignment of these otoconia, which corresponds to your head position in relation to gravity or linear head motion.

There are also special fluid-filled loops in the vestibular organs with stereocilia (the Semi-circular canals), which are evolved to detect rotary head motion (head turns). They operate a little differently. If you turn your head in a certain direction, the fluid in your semicircular canal lags behind the head motion, causing it to brush past the stereocilia, triggering them to indicate that your head is turning. There are three of these semicircular canals in each ear, each corresponding to a different orientation in head rotary head movement.

Now, if the otoconia from the utricle and saccule get out of those spaces and get into the semicircular canals, they can sit on or brush past those stereocilia sense organs, triggering them to tell you your head is turning, even when it isn’t. This mis-match between what your vestibular/balance organ is telling you (you’re moving) and what your vision and proprioception are telling you (you’re not!) is what makes you feel dizzy. This can happen if you get a traumatic hit to the head; the otoconia can get into the semicircular canals, causing the dizziness. We also get more prone to this as we get older (it’s pretty common in retirees).

If this happens, there are manual head-rotation exercises that can be done that help the otoconia travel from the semicircular canals back into the utricle and saccule.

So yes! This is the only time in medicine that you can legitimately go to a clinician to “have your crystals realigned”!

Nice work, Jonny - thanks for helping us to be a little smarter.