To maintain balance, the brain must receive coordinated information about the body’s position (1). This information comes from our eyes, balance centers in the ears and receptors in joints and muscles. Our brains process this information to create a strategy using specific muscle activation and joint movement, which enables us to balance.
Various conditions and injuries can hinder the collection and delivery of this information to the brain, impacting how we balance. Evidence suggests that ankle sprains affect the propioceptive signal from the ligaments around the ankle joint.
Propioceptive signals contain the information that tells your brain where the joint is. This is how you know whether your knee is bent or straight when you have your eyes closed. Conditions that affect the nerves, like diabetes, can reduce the delivery of this information to the brain too (1).
Problems with vision such as cataracts, the ability to see in the dark (2) and depth perception, which are all associated with aging, can also affect your sense of balance.
To help improve and maintain balance, we need to train the balance receptors in the ears and joints, and train the essential strength and mobility to support our body’s reaction strategy.
Here are a few exercises that are useful to train the muscles and reactions.
Stand on one leg, with the other in the air away from your stance leg. Try to stand in this position as long as you can. Be careful, and hold on to a wall or table for support when you first start this exercise. To make it more challenging, you can stand on a cushion.
Stand upright, with your back resting against a wall and your feet slightly away from the side of the wall. Open your legs slightly wider than shoulder width, and bend your knees to the 1/2 squat position. Make sure you keep the middle of your knee-cap in line with the middle toes of your foot. Return to the start position.
Stand upright in front of the bottom step of your staircase. Step up onto the first step with one leg, and bring the other leg to the step to meet it. With control, lower this same foot back to the floor, followed by the other. Alternate which foot you start with each time to train the legs evenly.
Stand upright, holding on to a wall, rail or stable surface for support. Place one leg in front of the other, in a straight line with the back foot so that both feet are almost touching with the toes of the back foot and the heel of the front foot. Repeat with the opposite leg, and continue. Walk 10 paces up and down 3-4 times.
Stand upright next to a wall or table just in case you need support. Slowly raise up onto your toes, and control the movement back down without allowing the ankles to roll out to the side. You can also walk around the house on your toes, or remain stationary whilst closing your eyes.
1. Simon, R.P., Aminoff, M.J. and Greenberg D.A. (1999) ‘Disorders of Equilibrium’. In Simon R.P. et al (4th ed) Clinical Neurology. New York: USA: Lange Medical Books: pp102
2. Hrieb, K.K., Choi, E. and Catalano, P.J. (2012) ‘Cranial Nerve VIII: Auditory and Vestibular’. In Jones, H.R. (2nd Ed) Netter’s Neurology. Philadelphia, USA: Elsevier Saunders: pp 109-119