Balance FAQs

What is balance?

Balance, in its essence, is the art of controlling our body's centre of mass in relation to our base of support (Ghez, 1991). This delicate dance occurs whether we are stationary (static balance) or in motion (dynamic balance). Normally, we're blissfully unaware of the intricate neuromuscular processes that maintain our stability. However, we become acutely aware when unsteadiness, falls, or sensory/musculoskeletal system impairments disrupt this harmonious symphony (Shumway-Cook & Woollacott, 2017).

What contributes to my balance?

To maintain our balance, our brain has to integrate information from three sensory systems and coordinate muscle activity in line with this to make corrections:

  • Comprising the inner ear apparatus and the central nervous system, it processes information regarding head position and movement (Baloh & Honrubia, 2018). As we move our heads, our inner ear detects this movement and communicates to the brain, the direction and speed of the movement. More on the inner ear and vertigo here.
  • Visual system: Our eyes and the central nervous system work in tandem, providing visual cues to the brain that help us orient ourselves to our environment (Horak & Macpherson, 1996). We rely very strongly on our visual system to be able to maintain our balance.
  • Somatosensory system: This includes tactile feedback and proprioception, our sense of joint position and movement, predominantly mediated by neurons in muscles, tendons, and joints (Lephart et al., 1997).

Can balance be trained?

Absolutely, balance can be trained, and the outcomes can be task-specific. When you engage in balance training, you're essentially fine-tuning your body's ability to integrate information from the sensory systems above which are involved in maintaining stability. Through consistent practice, balance training can lead to improvements in various aspects.

What improves when I do balance training?

  • Muscle strength: Balance exercises often engage multiple muscle groups, promoting strength (Paillard, 2017).
  • Coordination: By practicing balance, you enhance your coordination, gaining better control over your body's movements (Hufschmidt & Mauritz, 1985).
  • Proprioception: Balance training sharpens your proprioceptive awareness, refining your sense of joint position and movement (Proske & Gandevia, 2012).
  • Reaction time: As you become more adept at balancing, your reaction time to shifts in weight and position improves (Rogers & Mille, 2003).

Moreover, the effectiveness of balance training depends on its specificity to the tasks you want to improve. For instance, an athlete may focus on balance exercises that mimic their sport, while an older adult may prioritize exercises that reduce fall risk (Muehlbauer et al., 2015).

How do I identify the cause of my poor balance?

Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) offers valuable insights into the dynamics of balance. DST emphasises that balance is not solely determined by isolated factors but is a complex interaction of various elements. When assessing your poor balance within a DST framework, consider:

  • Synergistic systems: DST recognises that multiple systems, like the vestibular, visual, and somatosensory systems, interact to maintain balance. Imbalances within these systems can disrupt this synergy (Newell & Vaillancourt, 2001).
  • Non-linear interactions: DST acknowledges that small changes within one system can lead to significant shifts in overall balance. For instance, a minor visual impairment might have a disproportionate impact on your balance (Latash & Zatsiorsky, 1993).
  • Task-specificity: DST suggests that balance is task-specific. Your balance may be adequate for some activities but impaired for others. Assessing balance within the context of your daily tasks can provide valuable insights (Davids et al., 2005).

To identify the root cause of your poor balance, consider a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional, which may involve assessments of the vestibular system, vision, musculoskeletal health, and neurological function. A DST-informed approach recognises the complexity of balance and aims to tailor interventions to your specific needs, addressing the contributing factors effectively (Chow et al., 2011).

In summary, understanding balance and its intricate dynamics is essential for maintaining mobility and preventing accidents. If you're experiencing issues with balance, seek professional evaluation and consider engaging in task-specific balance training informed by principles such as Dynamical Systems Theory (DST). This approach can lead to significant improvements in your overall stability and quality of life.

If you need help with any of this, we would love to help you out!

REFERENCES (click to view) // Baloh, R. W., & Honrubia, V. (2018). Clinical neurophysiology of the vestibular system (Vol. 23). Oxford University Press. // Chow, J. Y., Davids, K., Button, C., & Renshaw, I. (2011). Nonlinear pedagogy in skill acquisition: An introduction. Routledge. // Davids, K., Button, C., & Bennett, S. (2005). Dynamics of skill acquisition: A constraints-led approach. Human Kinetics.

Horak, F. B., & Macpherson, J. M. (1996). Postural orientation and equilibrium. In R. B. Stein, K. G. Pearson, R. S. Smith, & J. B. Redford (Eds.), Control of posture and locomotion (pp. 255-292). Springer. // Hufschmidt, A., & Mauritz, K. H. (1985). Chronic transformation of muscle in spasticity: A peripheral contribution to increased tone. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 48(7), 676-685. // Latash, M. L., & Zatsiorsky, V. M. (1993). Joint stiffness: Myth or reality? Human Movement Science, 12(6), 653-692. // Lephart, S. M., Pincivero, D. M., & Rozzi, S. L. (1997). Proprioception of the ankle and knee. Sports Medicine, 24(5), 385-392. // Muehlbauer, T., Besemer, C., Wehrle, A., Gollhofer, A., & Granacher, U. (2015). Relationship between strength, power and balance performance in seniors. Gerontology, 61(3), 199-206. // Newell, K. M., & Vaillancourt, D. E. (2001). Dimensional change in motor learning. Human Movement Science, 20(5-6), 695-715. // Paillard, T. (2017). Plasticity of the postural function to sport and/or motor experience. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 72, 129-152. // Proske, U., & Gandevia, S. C. (2012). The proprioceptive senses: Their roles in signaling body shape, body position and movement, and muscle force. Physiological Reviews, 92(4), 1651-1697. // Rogers, M. W., & Mille, M. L. (2003). Lateral stability and falls in older people. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 31(4), 182-187.

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