Do you know how to BALANCE a check book? Do you struggle to find a work-life BALANCE? Do you know about the US government system of checks and BALANCES? Are you familiar with the story of baLANCE-elot of King Arthur’s Court?
Okay, that last one was absolutely awful but are you sensing a theme yet?
Pop quiz: Which person will benefit the most from balance training?
- A) The 14 year old female gymnast
- B) The 35 year old recreational jogger
- C) The 70 year old man with a cane
I may have been trying to pull fast one on you… its actually all three! Did you get it right? The obvious answer may have been option C because as we age, balance becomes more difficult and we rely on external devices like canes to help us get around more safely.
What is interesting is there are different balance challenges in the other two options as well. When we run as in option B, we spend a little less than half the time with one foot on the ground and the other part of the time in what is called the “flight phase” with no feet on the ground. While this one foot is contacting the ground, it requires a certain level of balance depending on level of fitness, terrain, environment, etc. Maximizing balance will maximize your running technique, make you more efficient, and prevent injury. The gymnast requires a different type of balance. This female in option A needs balance in many different planes of movement, with varying body parts (think about balance required during a handstand!), and the amount body control required is absolutely astounding.
Not sure if someone has poor balance? Have they fallen in the past year? Do they use an assistive device like a walker or cane? Do they walk more slowly than average or walk with a wide stance? These are all signs that someone may not have the best balance. Fortunately, this can be improved!! Chandler Physical Therapy specializes in balance training in all populations at all levels of fitness.
Balance involves essentially three different systems that must all work together to keep you upright. The first is vision. Naturally, we can all balance better when we can see in a well-lit room with our eyes open. Our peripheral vision subconsciously helps to orient our head in space, and vertical lines in the room give us perspective to align our heads and bodies.
The second one is called our somatosensory system. This includes a sense of pressure on our feet (or hands, for the gymnast) to understand where our weight is positioned. Something called proprioception also falls under this umbrella so that we can know where our body and joints are positioned in space without having to look. This is why we can walk without having to look down and see where our feet are all the time.
The third is our vestibular system, or inner ear. For our aviation people out there, this functions like that little gauge in the airplane cockpit that tells the pilot how the plane is oriented according to the horizon. Often he can see out the window of the plane, but if he happens to be maneuvering through a cloud or at night, the horizon is obscured and he now has to rely on a different system.
A similar thing happens as we age. With time, we may develop difficulty with vision for one reason or another, whether it is a change in prescription requiring glasses, age-changes in our lens (cataracts), changes in the back of the eye (retinopathy), and all sorts of other things. Also with age, our somatosensory system declines. Pressure sense on the bottom of our feet isn’t so great or we can’t always tell where our joints are positioned without looking. If our body doesn’t adapt well enough, we either have difficulty with balance, or our bodies come up with other ways to compensate.
“But why are you telling me all of this, Jake??”
Well curious blog-reader, I am telling you because it can be trained! It can be improved! You, or that person you know, doesn’t necessarily have to live with poor balance!
There are a variety of training methods that can be used depending on the systems that need to be affected. Aside from the previously listed systems (Can you remember all three?), there are other factors involved like muscular strength or mobility to name a few, that can be targeted by physical therapy as well.
Speaking of mobility, I have another question for you. If there was an earthquake in the middle of a city, which building is more likely to collapse: the brick building or the skyscraper?
The brick building right? The brick makes the building rigid, it doesn’t move, and isn’t able to adapt to maintain its “balance.” The skyscraper on the other hand, is mobile, is made to move and is meant to be able to adapt as needed. This ridiculous analogy is my way of saying that in order to have good balance, you need to have good mobility.
Since our bodies are similar to skyscrapers and work sort of the same way… Don’t be a brick building, be a skyscraper! So if you suspect mobility may be an issue for you, three exercises are included below that can improve this and may help with your balance troubles. Check it out – click the button to download!
If you find you are looking for more specifics as far a balance training program tailored to your needs or someone you know, contact Chandler Physical Therapy at 480-786-4969 – you can request to speak directly to a physical therapist or have a FREE 1-on-1 chat with a physical therapist in a discovery session!
’Twas a pleasure,
Jake Kelso PT, DPT