For most people, balance doesn’t become a concern until the later years of our life. Once we become aware of the possibility of breaking a bone and being hospitalized, the importance of balance becomes much more of a necessity. Decline in balance is a lifelong process, however. It’s not uncommon for people to start to show signs of decline in their 30s and 40s.
There are tons of factors that contribute to someone having good balance, and the body itself has three systems that contribute to keeping you on your feet. These three systems are the proprioceptive, vestibular, and visual systems. Each of these systems will deteriorate to some degree as we age, but we can train various aspects of each system to maintain or improve our balance.
More about these systems that can impact our balance:
Proprioception can be described as our body’s sense of position in space. For example, we know if our elbow is bent or straight even if we don’t look at it. With regards to balance, our feet and ankles provide the majority of that information regarding position. This is important for ensuring that our ankles and hips can coordinate to keep us steady and limit excessive amounts of movement that can lead to a fall.
The vestibular sense is most commonly associated with vertigo, but it is much more complex than that. The vestibular system is made of fluid-filled canals lined with small “hair” cells that detect movement of the fluid. If you are spinning, turning, or bending, these hair cells will pick up on that movement and help your brain determine how fast and what direction your head is moving.
The visual contribution to balance is pretty obvious – how many people are really good at balancing with their eyes closed? The eyes do a great job of relaying tons of information to your brain about what’s going on around you. Most adults are visually dominant for balance, so the eyes become the brain’s gold standard for comparing the different systems.
Each system can be trained in many ways, and most balance exercises have some overlap. For most adults, training the proprioceptive system will be one of the best ways to maintain good balance, simply because it typically becomes the weakest system. Ankle proprioception can be seen as the first line of defense for maintaining balance – if the ankles can’t keep us steady, that job falls to the hips.
The proprioceptive system is pretty easily trained. Simply standing in place with your eyes closed can train the proprioceptive system. If that’s too easy, try standing on a pillow or standing on one leg. It’s also beneficial to perform simple exercises like calf raises or bodyweight squats with your eyes closed to see if you have good control over the movements without relying on your vision.
Our staff has also developed a collection of simple exercises that can help improve balance, in part by improving proprioception of the feet and ankles.
When it comes to balance, it’s best to start from the ground up. The visual and vestibular systems are vital for good balance, but having good proprioception, especially of the feet and ankles, is a great way to keep your feet on the ground.
For more information on balance, vestibular.org has some great information on the specifics of each system.
Got questions? Feel limited in what you’re able to do? The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to be limitless. Contact us to connect with on of our PTs. Or follow us on Facebook.
***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.