The ability to maintain balance during standing on both or single legs requires input from the visual, vestibular and nervous systems. The body’s balance is determined through a constant process of position detection, feedback, and adjustment using communication between the inner ear, eyes, muscles, joints and brain. This is broken down into three main sections of Vision (sight), Proprioception (touch) and the vestibular system (motion, equilibrium, spatial orientation).
The vestibular system (ear) is designed to send information about the position of the head to the brain’s movement control centre (the cerebellum). In the inner ear, there are semi-circular canals that each have a different orientation to detect a variety of movements. Movement of fluid inside the canals caused by head movements stimulates tiny hairs that send information about the head’s position to the brain. This is what lets us know if we are moving, stationary or laying down.
Vision plays the role of providing a guide for movement. This is due to the way that the eye processes light and sends signals to the brain. This information provides cues identifying how a person is oriented relative to other objects. For example, when walking, buildings appear to be vertical and as you move past each one they move into sight then beyond into the range of peripheral vision.
Proprioception is a constant loop within your nervous system, telling you where you are and what position you are in. This loop comes from the nerve endings that provide information to the brain about limb positions. This positioning is determined by the information sent through the nerve endings by ligaments, muscles, tendons and skin. An example of proprioception is when an individual closes their eyes and tries to touch two fingers together.
If any one of these three systems are dysfunctional it can lead to balance problems. By training each of the three systems to work both independently AND in unison, we can positively influence our balancing ability.