How Does Balance Work Anyway?

Every wondered how your body keeps its balance? Well wonder no more! This is the question we will address in this blog post.

We often work with balance issues that start to appear in all age groups. It's no secret that the human body is complicated. Balance is no different. Our brain relies on input from several different systems to map out our position relative to our environment and help us stay upright to move about our world.  

Our body uses three main systems for this purpose. All of these systems communicate information with one another using the nervous system, so your brain has awareness of what position you are in at all times. A majority of this happens on a subconscious level and it is not until there is a issue that we become aware. Balance problems arise when any one of these systems, a combination of them, or the communication between these systems start to malfunction. 


Our brain relies on input from our eyes to determine how we are positioned relative to the environment around us. When our eyes are open, they send information about how the world looks to the brain. The brain uses this information for motor planning, or the process of determining what our next moves will be.

Our balance is so reliant on our vision that severe vision impairments increase fall risk by up to 50%. As the other balance systems of the body begin to decline, we commonly see an increased reliance on vision to maintain balance. 

Inner Ear (Vestibular)

The inner ear contains a complex system that registers your body's movement through space. Your brain makes sure this input matches up with what your eyes are seeing to incorporate this information in motor planning. 

Every heard of vertigo? Vertigo is caused when the inner ear is not working as it should. This may be an issue with the inner ear itself or with the communication from the inner ear. The classic symptom that comes to mind is dizziness, however for many older adults their only symptom of an inner ear dysfunction is unsteadiness. 

Position Sense (Proprioception)

Our skin and joints contain receptors that communicate information about pressure and position to the brain. This information is used in conjunction with information from the inner ear and the eyes. 

Neuropathy damages this sensory system, which leads to lack of feeling in the feet. If neuropathy progress the person may not even know if their feet are touching the floor when they are walking! In this scenario, we often see the person will start to reach for walls or furniture while walking. This is a signal that their brain is looking for an extra point of contact in order to gain more information about position. 


To repeat, these systems do not work entirely independently, but communicate with one another to give your brain a map of how you are moving through space and how you are positioned relative to your environment. Just one system slacking can lead to significant balance issues.

Generally, the reasons why someone might have balance difficulty are highly individualized. This is why it is helpful to see a trained professional for feedback on how you can improve your balance. We find more often than not balance issues can be identified long before someone becomes a fall risk. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Prevention is key in managing balance issues and certain exercises can help prevent your balance from declining before it even becomes a problem.

Exposing ourselves to variability with movement is key in challenging balance! You can easily add a balance challenge to any exercise by simply closing your eyes to perform the exercise or standing on a different surface to perform an exercise. Changes within these systems naturally occur with age, and some changes can start happening as early as age 30! So if you think it is too early to start worrying about your balance, think again. On the same note, even if you already have significant balance problems it is never too late to make some positive changes!


Choose how you age. Choose how you 2019. Join our January Movement Challenge to kick off your new year!


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