Corey Vanderwouw: The balancing act
A balancing act requires the actor to adjust, harmonize, readjust and attune to various activities at once to create a delicate harmony of a situation. Staying balanced in your body is much the same in that there are multiple actions and reactions happening at once throughout our many various joints for even the simplest of movements. We keep the act up, so that we may remain upright and safe from bruises, fractures or other injury.
We are created with three intricate systems which we use to physically balance ourselves. One system, located within the inner ear, is the vestibular system. This system gives us information regarding motion, equilibrium and spatial orientation. We also rely on our eyesight for balance. Have you noticed that balancing on one leg is more difficult with your eyes closed? Our eyes tell us how we are oriented relative to other objects, including buildings, trees and the ground.
The third system is called the proprioceptive system, or proprioception. This sensory system has its origins in our muscles and joints and are sensitive to stretch or pressure. The sensory nerves communicate with our brains to tell us how our joints are oriented so that we may respond with movement as needed. For instance, proprioceptive input from our ankles and feet indicate the movement or “sway” relative to the ground. If we sway, our brains receive the message quickly and respond quickly with a corrective movement.
Most of us grew up testing and challenging our balance with games and sports. It was fun. As we challenged our balance systems, they continued to improve. There was not much to consider unless another person pushed us, if we found ourselves on a slippery surface, or were surprised on unstable ground. At some point in our lives, many of us stop moving so much and our proprioception systems become diminished.
How is your balance? There are indicators that your balance may not be as sharp as it could be. These things can include signs like feeling unsteady, holding onto objects or walls while walking, or having a history of falls. It may be that one specific joint feels unstable. Other signs can be less obvious and include keeping your feet close to the ground when you walk (called shuffling) or it could manifest as simply seeming to be accident-prone. Proprioceptive ability is also affected by orthopedic injuries, and by neurological conditions. Balance problems may also be due to medication, or specific medical conditions, so checking with your doctor is advisable.
Improving your personal balancing act can not only give you more stability, it can become a source of great enjoyment. Activities that many people love are great for working the proprioceptive system. These activities include, but are not limited to Tai Chi, golf, dancing, hiking and other outdoor activities.
There are also balance exercises that you can do at home, or you can go to a gym for strengthening exercises or exercise classes. You can ask for individualized exercises by your doctor, physical therapist or personal trainer. By tuning in and practicing your balance, you can empower yourself and your improve your ability to adjust, harmonize, readjust, and attune to the activities of life, and move in harmony.
Corey Vanderwouw, MPT, is co-owner of Fit for Life Physical Therapy.
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