Can “eye exercises” really help with “reducing” the refractive error?

You’d have noticed that I’ve placed “eye exercises” and “reducing” within quotes, and that has been done for a reason. To understand whether eye exercises truly help in reducing the refractive error we must first understand what causes refractive errors and then understand how exercise helps in this regard.

Refractive errors are errors in the optical system of the eye which does not permit light entering the eye (incident light) to get focused on the light sensitive retina located at the back of the eye. The source of these errors to a large extent is the cornea and to a lesser degree the lens. Other factors like overall length of the eye, position of the lens, refractive index of a medium etc also play a role. To keep things simple, myopic eyes (those with short sight) tend to have longer eyes or more powerful (steeper) corneas, so the incident light gets focused in front of the retina while hyperopic eyes (those with long sight) typically have shorter eyes or weaker (flatter) corneas causing the point of focus to lie behind the retina. Also with age the crystalline lens in the eye loses its ability to change in shape resulting in difficulty with near vision, a problem called presbyopia.

         Let me start by stating that I’m not against exercises. In fact I do advise certain types of eye exercises for very specific problems. For those who regularly use the illuminated screens (computer, tablets, etc) I recommend frequent blinking of eyes. Conscious blinking of eyes helps with the even spreading of the tear film over the surface of the eye thus preventing dryness of eyes. Also those who perform sustained near work may have trouble when suddenly viewing objects at a distance. For this problem I recommend that the person intermittently gaze into the distance (maybe a wall clock at the end of the hall or through a window) periodically once every half hour. This would ensure that the ciliary muscles in the eye don’t get fatigued. Certain types of squint like intermittent divergent squint (where the eyes tend to deviate outwards occasionally) or convergence insufficiency (decreased ability to bring the eyes closer to one another)  I recommend pencil push up exercise. This exercise is performed with both eyes open by first holding a pencil with the pointed end facing upwards at an arm’s length. The pencil is slowly brought closer while constantly looking at its tip until it starts to blur. Once this point is reached an extra effort can be summoned to bring the tip into focus for a few seconds, after which the pencil is slowly moved back to the original starting position. This exercise helps in strengthening the medial recti (one of the 4 recti muscles around each eye) thus helping bring the eyes closer together in the case of an intermittent divergent squint and also for those who cannot perform sustained near related work.

       So we must ask ourselves the following questions.

  1. Will the prescribed exercise alter the shape / dimensions of the eye.?
  2. Will the prescribed exercise change the position of the lens or alter the refractive index of the cornea or lens?
  3. Will the exercise bring back the elasticity of the crystalline lens?

With paucity of scientific research I’m inclined to suggest that there is no rationale behind these exercises merely to alter the refractive status. Also moving the eyes around vertically or horizontally or in various combinations isn’t really going to alter the structure of the eyes. In fact moving the eyes around vigorously could cause turbulence in the vitreous gel in the eye potentially causing problems in the vitreo retinal interface. If you have been advised some form of refractive correction like spectacles, contacts or refractive laser surgery it’s probably in your best interest. Will wearing refractive devices like spectacles or contacts cause “problems” to your eyes? For more check out ……   


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