Balance training can be more than just balancing on one leg or standing on a wobble board. It can involve training other elements of how we maintain our balance. There are three systems of the body that we use to keep ourselves from falling over: visual, vestibular, and proprioception. Vision gives the most feedback of the three. We use our eyes to know where we are in the world around us and to avoid bumping into things that may cause harm. Proprioception involves a whole network of nerve endings located throughout the body, in muscles, tendons, fascia, joint capsules, and in our skin. These sensors act as a GPS system that relays information to the brain as to the location of our body in space. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and acts like a gimbal in an airplane that tells the brain about the head’s position in space - pitch, roll, and yaw. It also tells the brain when the head is accelerating and decelerating like when you are in a car or elevator.
Inside the inner ear there are tiny tubes filled with gel-like fluid and tiny pebble-like objects. When the head is in motion it sends the fluid flowing through the tubes and bumps the pebbles around and nerve endings sends signals to the brain about the quality of movement. If the head is trained to stay in one position for long periods of time it may prevent the fluid and pebbles from moving properly and this could create balance problems. When the vestibular system encounters problems, like various types of vertigo, it is nearly impossible for the sufferer to do anything but lie down and hope the extreme dizziness fails.
Consider how much time you spend driving, staring at an electronic screen (phone, laptop, etc.), or wearing the new style of airpod headphones that dangle from your ears. The head is required to move as little as possible. We all know what happens to the body if we do not move it, but what happens to your balance? So let’s take five minutes to literally shake things up. Here are some drills that target the vestibular system in hopes of improving your balance.
Fixed Gaze w/Head Motions - Find a standing position that you are able to maintain your balance but one that is also challenging. Look below for a list of different stances that go from easy to difficult. Stare at an object across the room that is at eye level. Turn the head left & right while staring at the object. Perform 3-5 repetitions. Then move the head up and down for 3-5 reps. Lastly, move the head diagonally for 3-5 reps with both diagonal directions.
Merged w/Vision - This is the same as the previous drills, but the vision moves with the head. You can hold a pencil out at arm’s length, and have it move at the same time with the head.
Opposing Vision w/Head Motions - This is the same as the previous drills, but the vision moves in the opposite direction of the head. You can hold a pencil out at arm’s length, and have it move at the same time a the head. When the head turns left, the eyes track to the right.
Stances to choose from listed below from Basic to Advance:
- Wide Stance
- Narrow Stance
- Feet Touching
- One Foot in front of the other, heel to toe
- Single Leg Stance