Watch Your Noggin
Avoid Bashing Your Head – 3 Ways To Keep Your Balance
Are you afraid of falling?
Maybe you’re still pretty good at catching yourself when you stumble.
Either way, the approach to improving or maintaining your balance skills so you don’t suffer from a major injury from a fall requires deliberate training of several systems of the body to help you stay upright.
Falls and injuries are very common in older adults. And, even younger folks miss a step and can take a tumble too. There are many severe injuries that can occur from falling from muscle strains, joint sprains, dislocations, broken bones and traumatic brain injury.
Many people don’t get checked out for their injuries and just walk them off. That can work for some, but many may suffer further consequences, especially for any head injuries. The most beneficial thing you can do to prevent serious injury is to deliberately train to improve your balance and coordination.
If you have a hard time catching yourself and are prone to stumbling or falling your chance of injury increases. If you fall once, there is a strong likelihood that you may fall again.
If you still have good balance and want to maintain it or maybe you’re noticing that you’re not quite as agile as you used to be it may be time to train your balance.
There are several systems that are involved in keeping you upright. Your vestibular system is one of the main ones. But, as you may or may not know already, your visual system also accounts for your ability to stay upright. Also, your proprioceptive system, which contributes to your brain’s 3D maps of yourself in space also plays a dynamic role.
These 3 Systems coordinate information from receptors that your brain uses to keep you upright and also keep stable when you might stumble. There are other reflexes and systems that get involved and other factors that contribute to you being able to fall in a controlled manner. But for today I want to go over these 3 systems and what to do about them.
What keeps you up?
The 3 Pillars contribute to your balance system. Each one has a specific role and they all communicate through different pathways in your nervous system.
Pillar 1 – The Proprioceptive System
Your brain maps out your ability to move. This information comes from your proprioceptive system. It contributes to your brain knowing where you are in space. It correlates this information with your visual system to help navigate your environment and interact with it.
To improve balance you want to deliberately train your proprioceptive system by improving your map clarity. This is done in a variety of ways.
One of the main ways I begin to train my clients is through dynamic joint mobility training. Dynamic joint mobility training teaches you to become a more competent mover by exploring movement in each joint in the body. The system I teach takes you through each joint and specifically moving it in a variety of ways. As you progress with moving more deliberately your brain pays attention and begins to clarify your movement maps.
This translates into several benefits:
- Your brain trusts your ability to move and begins to take the brakes off your body allowing you more flexibility
- You can get stronger because the information coming in from the joints is clearer and it diminishes the arthro-kinetic reflex, which shuts down your muscles
- Your brain has a clearer picture of your muscular system and can reflexively recruit muscles to do the correct jobs at the right time with the appropriate amount of force
Overall what happens is, the more competent of a mover you are, the more your brain trusts you. And, that opens doors to less restrictions on your body which equates to better performance and the ability to explore new levels of fitness.
Pillar 2 – The Vestibular System
Your vestibular system is kind of your main balance system. You’ve probably heard of your equilibrium, this is it. These are little tiny organs that are in your inner ear and they communicate with your visual system and other parts of your nervous system to keep your eyes on the horizon and you upright. There is a set of each of these organs on both sides of your head.
Within the inner ear there are several different organs involved. You have three semi-circular canals that tell your brain which direction your head is moving in. This is usually related to neck rotations, tilts and movements in between. The visual system communicates greatly with this set of organs to help keep your eyes on the horizon. This is important because this is one way your brain knows how to keep you up.
There are two other organs referred to as otoliths. One is called a saccule and it tells your brain if you are moving up and down. The other organ is called a utricle and it tells your brain if you are moving in a horizontal plane. Both of these collaborate to help your brain recruit the appropriate muscles and exert the right amount of force to help keep you stable and up right.
Each one of these organs can be deliberately trained through eye, head and body movements which can, in turn, improve their ability to communicate with the other systems of your body that contribute to your balance.
Pillar 3 – The Visual System
Your eyes, when they are open, contribute roughly about 80% of the information needed to keep you upright. Interestingly, in the occipital lobe, the part of your brain that processes information coming in from your eyes, has specific receptors that activate with different types of lines. There are specific activations for vertical lines, horizontal lines, and squiggly lines. The vertical straight lines your brain is able to interpret and use to help maintain your uprightness.
The funny thing is, if you have ever been to a type of fun house where bottles seem to roll uphill. The house is constructed in such a way that everything is slightly off kilter. But, because your brain is using these vertical lines to keep you straight up, your whole body goes off kilter too, and now you perceive yourself as straight up along with the rest of the environment. But for some reason that bottle defies gravity and rolls uphill.
Your peripheral vision is what accounts for taking this information in and relaying it to your occipital lobe. So, in your balance training you want to deliberately train your peripheral vision to increase the clarity of this information as well. You want to notice shapes, colors and contrasts as you move through space.
Your focal vision helps you place objects in space and along with your proprioceptive input your brain can figure out where you are in the environment and how to navigate through it and interact with it. And, if you suddenly trip your brain has mapped out where things are in space and will reflexively try to keep you upright and avoid objects that could potentially hurt you if you happen to go down. We are wired to protect ourselves and once your brain feels threatened about potential injury it will go into a protection mode to limit the amount of damage.
Prevent falls first
These 3 Pillars are what need to be included in your balance training. As you deliberately train and focus on each pillar you will also notice many other benefits happen to your body.
As I said earlier, your brain will begin to trust you more and in turn will become less restrictive. One of its primary functions is to protect you. But, the more skilled you become in your training the better of a job it can do to protect you. And, usually, if you do stumble the easier it will be to bounce back. Protecting yourself from risk of injury starts with deliberate training of your 3 Pillars.
If you are ready to embark on a program that can improve your balance and help keep you from bashing your head click the link below to set up a consultation.
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