The Nature of Balance

Balance is your body’s ability to maintain an equilibrium of forces on the body and can be either static or dynamic. Static balance is required in order to keep your body in a stationary position whereas dynamic balance is required to keep our body in alignment during movement.

There are many different body systems that all work together to maintain balance. They include;

Vestibular system

This system is located in your inner ear and uses nerve input to tell the brain where your head is located in space. This system is often responsible for vertigo problems.

Proprioception

Similarly to the vestibular system, this system works to tell the brain where all the different body parts are located in space. Sensory receptors in the joints feedback this information to the brain.

Autonomic system

This system is responsible for maintaining organ, immune, hormone, circulatory function and more. It has an important role in maintaining blood pressure and preventing light headedness and also controls our reflex reactions. Having good reflexes is important for preventing falls when unexpected hazards cause us to lose our balance.

Visual system

Eyesight is incredibly important for depth perception and being able to see trip hazards and obstacles.

Auditory system

Being able to identify where different noises are coming from helps us to orientate ourselves in space.

Musculoskeletal system

Having strong bones and muscles makes it easier for us to stay upright and maintain stability within our bodies as well as against outside forces.

Sensory system

Sensory receptors located all over our bodies help to give information to our brain about the different surfaces we are moving on. Receptors in our feet are particularly important as they tell our brains when we are walking on a smooth and slippery surface that may require us to be more careful.

 

What to do about poor balance?

A disturbance to any of these systems can result in changes to balance. It is important to address all these components when you feel your balance is not as good as it should be. Doctors can often address changes to eyesight and hearing and help you to better manage diseases such as diabetes that may have resulted in changes to sensation or organ function. In older adults, poor balance can often simply be the result of general weakness and lack of practice.

Fortunately, balance can be improved. Recent research has shown that exercise performed in the correct way can help to improve balance by increasing strength, endurance, postural control, body awareness, general fitness and mobility, as well as reverse some of the natural declines that occur during aging. The exercise needs to incorporate challenges to balance in a variety of ways that take into account all the different systems that contribute to balance. It works best when practiced regularly and in a safe environment. Whether young or old, improving balance can improve your performance in sports, activities and everyday life!

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About the Author



Alex Long completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy with Honours at the University of Canberra, completing practical work in Canberra, rural NSW and Perth. Alex has a keen interest in Pilates, resulting in the completion of an Honours thesis in this area. She is also currently undertaking Pilates training with the APPI.


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