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Understanding Balance: A Key to Physical Freedom

Balance is the ability to keep our center of mass over our feet. To better understand balance, we first need to discuss some key concepts.


Center of Mass

The center of mass is the singular point at which your mass would reside if you were the size of a dot floating in the air. This is usually somewhere around the belly button. It can be thought of as the balance point in the center of the body. For our purposes, we will be talking about someone's center of mass while standing or walking.


Center of Gravity

The center of gravity is the point on the ground that is directly under the center of mass. This is helpful to know when looking at the relationship of the center of gravity with someone’s foot position.


Base of Support

The base of support is the area around your feet while you're standing, including the space between them. If you're standing on one foot, it is simply the outline of that foot. The larger the base, the easier it is to find balance.


To balance successfully, our center of gravity must reside inside our base of support. If it goes outside our base of support, we will fall over or have to work extra hard to remain upright.


What Does It Take to Maintain Balance?


Proprioception

Proprioception is the awareness of pressure points on the bottom of our feet where we are in contact with the floor. Age, lifestyle, and chronic conditions can affect proprioception. For example, aging reduces the padding on the bottom of the foot, leading to neuropathy and a lack of feeling. Choices in footwear over a lifetime, such as cushioned running shoes, can diminish our sensitivity to the ground. Shoes like wingtips or heels can alter foot shape, decreasing the base of support and awareness of balance points. Fortunately, proprioception can be improved with focused exercises like those we practice at Triad Wellness.


Vestibular System

The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, helps us sense balance and spatial orientation. It includes a canal filled with fluid that moves and sends signals to the brain about our position in space. Imagine a bottle filled with water; when you move the bottle, the fluid moves in a sensible direction. This system can be trained through movement. Exercises at Triad Wellness help train the inner ear fluid to respond quicker, though aging and chronic conditions can make the fluid more viscous and resistant to movement. Effective exercises include those done on all fours, side-lying, twisting, and the most demanding of all—inversions.


Foot and Lower Limb Stability and Strength

Once you're able to “feel” the ground and understand your base of support, you'll need muscular activation to keep your center of mass over it. Your toes, feet, ankles, and legs are constantly adjusting to keep you upright. Some of these movements are so small that we don’t see them, and some are just changes in muscle tone with no outward movement. The most important and often overlooked part about foot and lower limb stability is that it acts as a negative feedback loop. The activation of muscles to correct the natural shifts that occur while balancing always pulls us back to upright or neutral. This means we are constantly on the verge of falling in one direction while our muscles and tissues work to pull us in the opposite direction. To ensure this works properly, our feet must be highly mobile. Exercises to train the intrinsic muscles of the foot, such as those that maintain the ability to pronate and supinate, are essential.


Eyesight

Although tips and tricks like keeping your eyes on an immovable object or the horizon can help with balance, exercise cannot fix poor eyesight. Poor eyesight negatively impacts balance, but modern medical devices and procedures can help. Discuss options with your doctor.


The Multifaceted Nature of Balance


As you can see, balance is multifaceted. There is no single way to train for perfect balance. Instead, you need varied exercises that challenge one or more of these systems at a time.


Follow our social media @triadwellnessphilly for more tips on how to stay balanced and maintain your physical freedom.


If you’d like professional guidance on balance training, schedule a no-sweat intro today to find out exactly how we can help! Reclaim your balance and enhance your life with Triad Wellness.

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