Understanding Your “3 Balance Systems” – Balance & Fall Prevention
In a previous blog, I introduced you to what I refer to as the “downward spiral” of having a fall. In short, I highlighted how one isolated fall can often have life-altering consequences, ultimately including things like depression and decreased enjoyment in life.
And while this may have been a rough way to start the conversation about balance and fall prevention, I also promised to brighten things up by sharing some useful information with you about how you can improve your balance and stay active. And today, that’s just what I plan to do!
But before you set off to improve your balance, it’s vital that you understand how your balance actually works. Let’s oversimplify it before I give you too many details.
Maintaining your balance is basically a 3-step process:
3 Steps to Maintain Your Balance
->> Step #1: Your ability to sense your balance
->> Step #2: Your ability to process this sensory input
->> Step #3: Your ability to respond to this input and make adjustments
Again, this is a very oversimplified view of balance, so just consider this your “big picture”. Now, let’s get into some detailed information by taking a look at that first factor.
When it comes to sensing your balance, including your body’s position in relationship to gravity, your body relies on 3 balance systems. When these 3 systems are working properly, you’ll have a very good sense of your balance at any given time.
Here’s a look at each of the 3 Balance Systems in detail:
Your 3 Balance Systems
->> Balance System #1: Vision. Have you ever felt unsteady in a dark room or when walking to your car in a dark parking lot? If so, the reason you feel that way is because your vision is a very important part of your balance. When your eyes are open, your vision is constantly sending information to your brain related to where you are in relation to your environment. Your brain processes this visual input very rapidly, which helps you make necessary changes to your balance.
->> Balance System #2: Sensation. Your second balance system involves a few types of sensation. The most basic kind of sensation is through the skin along the bottoms of your feet. As you shift your weight, your skin can feel the pressure shifting, and this tells your brain where your body weight is located in relation to your “base of support”. If your weight shifts too close to the edge of your feet, where you might go past the base of support and fall, your body can then respond by shifting the weight back towards the center. Your body also has different receptors in your joints and muscles which we call “proprioceptors”. This gives your brain more information about your overall body position in space.
->> Balance System #3: Inner Ear. Your third balance system is also referred to as your “vestibular system”. Have you ever been told that you have fluid in your ears? This fluid moves through circular canals in your inner ear, giving your brain information about the speed and direction of various head movements.
When your 3 balance systems are all working properly, your brain has a constant stream of accurate input to work with.
Like I mentioned, this is step #1 in managing your balance. As long as your brain can process the information appropriately (step #2), it can then tell your body what corrections to make in order to maintain optimal balance and keep you from falling (step #3).
For now, just keep this information in mind, and we’ll build off of it next week and discuss how to test each system to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
As we work through more information on balance and fall prevention, you’ll be able to use the information to determine where you need to make improvements.
The video version of this blog is below. Please visit https://physicaltherapyspokane.com/balance-fall-prevention/ for even more tips and information on how to improve your balance and prevent a fall 🙂
– Luke Gordon, DPT/Owner of Gordon Physical Therapy
And here’s another video about balance and fall prevention that will explain the “3 Steps to Maintain Balance” in more detail.
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