Saturday, January 20, 2007


For those of you that thought yesterday's single leg stance test was a "balance" test I thought I would elaborate today on what balance is and is not.

According to - balance is a biological system that enables us to know where are bodies are in the evironment and to maintain a desired position(s).
In perhaps more simple terms - It is our ability to control our center of gravity.

How does our body achieve this control? Through a complicated interplay and interconnection between four systems in our bodies. Vestibular, Proprioceptive/kinesthetic, Visual, and the Central Nervous System all have a roll to play in "balance".
From receptors in the skin, muscle spindles, golgi tendon organs, joint mechanoreceptors, the inner ear (equalibrium), the oculomotor system (and several other 25cent words) all interconnect and communicate to establish our sense of where we are and where we want to go/move.

So what is balance? Is standing on one leg balance? Is standing on the much touted "unstable" surface balance? How about "hopping" from spot to spot? Any other ideas?

The answer to all of these is yes and no....Some are more proprioceptive, some are more kinesthetic, so the answer as to how to train or what is balance is complicated.

Let's break down which of the balance systems is being challenged by these one foot variations:
Standing on one foot - proproceptive/kinesthetic
Standing on one foot moving the head looking from left to right - proprioceptive and vestibular
Standing on one foot eyes closed - vestibular and proprioceptive (removing visual)
Standing on one foot eyes closed and moving the head - all of the above

So we can challenge each of the systems and the input provided by altering the single leg drill but is it "balance"?

Again - yes and no - yes we are challenging the balance systems but no because we were not controlling our center of gravity in a moving/living environment.

And there I let the cat out of the bag - Balance is losing your center of gravity and regaining/maintaining control of that center of gravity.
Imagine walking around and getting shoved from the side unexpectedly - would you fight to stay on one foot - or would you side step (letting your center of gravity move in the direction of the push so you and your center of gravity end up in the same place). You would side step - a little or a lot depending on the shove and any other obstacles in the way.

Standing on one foot or standing on an unstable surface is A way to challenge the balance systems but it is not balance in and of itself.

So we may begin improving our balance by challenging the balance systems but we must progress to real life moving activities that requires us to control our center of gravity.


Geoff said...

"Standing on one foot eyes closed - visual and proprioceptive"

Sorry bro'--I think you meant vestibular and proprioceptive...Knew what you meant though.

Good posts.

Brett Jones said...

Yeah- that - Vestibular - I will go in and edit it.

Brett Jones said...

Just had to go back and re-read it - by closing the eyes you eliminate visual feed back and have to hit the proprioceptive system even harder because you cannot correct by visual imput.
How is this an inner ear challenge?

Randy said...

Did you ever notice (in most situations) you don't really "notice" is when you are in "not balance" that you notice what's going on?. Like on a bike, once you "learn" to ride one, it isn't a conscious issue until you "lose" balance. Acquiring a new bike handling skill, for example learning to do a track stand, makes it clear (often painfully) that the harder you consciously try, the more difficult the task becomes...I've often wondered if balance in any activity is a process of elimination: the body runs through all the options, most of which are "not balance" before hitting on equilibrium. Balance seems to arise from chaos...we seem to be designed to balance automatically but only become conscious of the entropy. Perhaps balance is one of those processes we have no business trying to run consciously.
No, I'm not smoking anything.

Brett Jones said...

Yes - what I was saying was if you eliminate the visual you are challenging the vestibular and proprioceptive (from being on one leg) - this is what you get when you are trying to post a blog while running around at work! So you challenge the vestibular by removing the visual.

Randy - I agree balance is one of those complex "higher" functions that we can "train" by placing ourselves in certain situations but cannot "control".

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