Step Up Your Game

With Vision Therapy

by Cassandria Warr // October - November - December 2018

With fall sports in full swing, do you find yourself wanting to improve your game? You’re probably already doing a lot of what’s required to get stronger, faster, and more accurate. But what if there is something else that can help you further advance your athletic ability?

Sports vision therapy is vision training to improve the visual skills and abilities of an athlete. Athletes of any ability level can benefit from cross-training visual skills to improve performance. An athlete vision assessment will identify areas of relative strength and relative weakness in order to design an individualized training program to help develop peak visual skills. Training visual skills enables athletes of all ability levels to more quickly and accurately recognize and process visual information. This is the first step in preparing the body to make the proper response during competition. Every athlete would benefit from having the following visual skills evaluated.

Accommodation (Eye Focusing Skills): The strength, flexibility, and accuracy of the eye focusing system should be evaluated with your sport in mind. Accommodative skills allow you to keep objects (such as the ball, puck, or opposing team) in focus, as well as quickly change focus during the game.

Depth Perception: Often called “3D vision,” depth perception is dependent on the ability to use both eyes together at the highest level. Deficiencies in depth perception can result in poor passes, shots, or spatial judgment during competition.

Ocular Motility (Eye Movements): Eye movements must be fast, accurate, and coordinated any time you need to quickly change focus from one object to another. It is much faster to move just your eyes than your whole head. Deficiencies in eye movements can slow down your entire game.

Vergence (Eye Teaming): Deficits in eye teaming will result in double vision, eyestrain, fatigue, headaches, or dizziness. Deficiencies of the vergence system will affect sports performance either globally or during specific aspects of your game (such as putting in golf).

Visual Acuity (Clarity): How clearly you see is the foundation of a strong binocular vision system. Not seeing equally out of each eye has the potential to affect eye teaming. It can also affect your ability to follow a ball or player that is at a distance.

Peripheral Vision: Peripheral vision allows an athlete to see if a player or ball is moving without looking directly at them. If you do not have good peripheral vision, you may miss a player trying to steal a base.

Physically, the difference between a high performing athlete in a particular sport versus an average performing athlete in the same sport is typically marginal. Mentally, the difference can be tremendous. The following perceptual skills are critical for giving an athlete that mental advantage and should be evaluated during your binocular vision assessment.

Processing Speed: This is a measure of how quickly your brain processes visual information. Deficiencies in processing speed will result in delayed reaction time.

Spatial Awareness/Planning: This perceptual skill allows athletes to know where they are on the field, where their teammates are, and where the competition is. The athlete can then make the best decision of where to play the puck, which pass to make, or which shot to take.

Visual Integration: The integration of visual information with the other senses is critical. Making sense of your world relies on all of the senses working harmoniously. The integration of visual and motor skills is important for eye-hand coordination during athletic competition.

Visual Perception: This group of skills includes visual discrimination (determining likeness), spatial relations (determining differences), form constancy (determining sameness even when changed in size or orientation), visual memory, visual sequential memory, figure-ground (extracting valuable information from the background), and visual closure (ability to put the pieces together to form the whole). These perceptual skills are essential for optimal athletic performance.

Working Memory: This perceptual skill is critical for athletic success. Whether it is remembering a pitcher’s tendencies, which routes to run as a wide receiver, or remembering how a hole in golf plays, working memory is a part of most athletic events.

Vision therapy can also be used to train the visual system after a concussion occurs. A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury that can occur in many ways, including playing sports. According to “The Concussion Project,” 10%-20% of concussions result in symptoms that can last weeks, months, or more. When these symptoms persist, a condition known as post-concussion syndrome occurs. Typical symptoms of post-concussion syndrome are confusion, headache, nausea, unsteadiness, light sensitivity, blurred vision, double vision, loss of place with reading, and dizziness. Recent research suggests that over 50% of patients with concussion or post-concussion syndrome have visual problems that can cause headaches, double vision, eye strain, or blurred vision. Through vision therapy, the visual system can be retrained to help eliminate the visual symptoms that are most commonly associated with post-concussion syndrome. This is generally termed neuro-optometric rehabilitation.

Neuro-optometric rehabilitation represents a specific area of optometry, which addresses deficits in eye-teaming, eye focusing, visual tracking, visual processing problems, and related visual problems. These are common with patients who have had a concussion or another form of acquired brain injury. Treatment involves spectacle lens prescriptions, prisms, filters, and special tints which can provide symptomatic relief. Vision therapy is also a powerful form of neuro-optometric rehabilitation. Vision therapy entails a variety of non-surgical therapeutic procedures designed to modify different aspects of visual function. It typically involves a series of treatments during which carefully planned activities are carried out by the patient under professional supervision in order to relieve the visual problem. The specific procedures and instrumentation utilized are determined by the nature and severity of the diagnosed condition. Vision therapy is not instituted to simply strengthen eye muscles, but rather is generally done to treat functional deficiencies in order for the patient to achieve optimal efficiency and comfort.

Sports vision therapy makes good athletes even better. Individualized training programs provide targeted vision performance training, with specificity in sport and position, to enhance and develop elevated levels of sports performance.

Cassandria Warr

Developmental optometrist with McPherson Family Eye Care in Wake Forest.