No matter how old we are, we can always improve our balance. Balance is important for people of all ages and physical fitness levels. As we age, balance changes and can lead to increased risk of injury and falls. If all 3 systems described below are intact, we can maintain postural balance and avoid falling.
3 systems that help you maintain and improve balance:
- Proprioceptors are sensory receptors found within joints, muscles, and tendons.
- Information gets sent to your brain in regards to pressure and tension changes in muscle.
- Muscles are either facilitated or inhibited as a result.
- Self-sensation of motion
- Vestibular signals give you information about head movements that can help you separate the movement within the environment
- Eyes aid in maintenance in upright posture and orientation
What differences occur with balance as we age?
- Quality of sensory information declines
- Body sway increases
- Response time delayed
- Deterioration in each system
- Changes in motor recruitment patterns/strategies in response to postural perturbations. Older adults tend to recruit more muscles in their responses, while younger people activate the minimal number of muscles to maintain balance
- Increased tendency to use hip strategy (i.e. flexing or extending at the hip) vs ankle strategy to maintain balance. For example, younger people tend to activate in a distal to proximal sequence (ground up). For contrast, older people tend to activate in a proximal to distal sequence (top-down)
- Deterioration of the nervous system can result in abnormal muscle responses
Exercising regularly helps to improve balance and reduces the risk of injuries to your limbs whether you are an athlete or not!
What can you do to improve your balance?
- Work on your strength. The stronger you are, the better balance you will have. Balance deficits can indicate muscle weakness. For example, if you cannot stand on one leg (especially with a level pelvis), it might mean that your glute medius (an important hip stabilizer) is not strong enough to hold you.
- Improve your joint range of motion/flexibility.
- Perform balance specific exercises that challenge your 3 systems described above. (Your physical therapist can help you with specific exercises).
Test your balance today to see where you need to improve!
To give you an idea of what types of situations influence each balance system, try completing the Classic Test for Sensory Integration on Balance (CTSIB)! This test assesses the contribution of all 3 systems to postural control. All exercises are done as single-leg standing balance movements.
Complete the following movements on one leg and then the other:
- Eyes open, standing on a firm surface—3 systems available – i.e. Testing all 3 systems.
- Eyes closed, standing on a firm surface. With NO vision available, you will be testing your somatosensory and vestibular systems.
- Eyes open, standing on a foam surface. This will reduce the somatosensory information available and will allow you to test your vision and vestibular systems.
- Eyes closed, standing on a foam surface. With no vision to rely on and reduced somatosensory information, you will primarily be testing your vestibular system responses.
How did you do? If you think you need help with your balance or want to know what you can do to help it, talk with your physical therapist! Click either button below to book a physical therapy evaluation.