The sense of balance is also called equilibrioception and is responsible for perceiving balance and spatial orientation. Equilibrioception prevents humans and other animals from falling over when standing or walking.
It requires several sensory organs working together. (Winter, D.A., 1995)
Control and Feel?
The body’s balance system works by position-detection, feedback, and adjustments using muscles, joints, eyes, brain, and inner ear for communication. Proper communication and coordination between what we sense (sensory input) and our actions (motor output) balance the human body properly.
At the back of the brain, there is the cerebellum which meets the spine. The cerebellum acts as the body’s control center. It receives the messages about the body’s positioning from the inner ear, eyes, muscles, and joints. It then sends the information to the muscles to adjust the posture or position accordingly. The data gets carried through the vestibular system. (Chander, H., Garner, J.C. and Wade, C., 2014)
Behold The Connection Of Body Parts For Balance
- Eyes And Ears
Sensory receptors in the retina are called rods and cones. Cones help with seeing colors, while rods are better suited at night time when the lights are dim. They send impulses to the brain, which provide visuals of the surroundings. Then the vestibular system sends motor control signals via the nervous system to the eyes in an automatic function called the vestibule-ocular reflex.
When your head is steady, the impulses from vestibular organs to the left and right sides of the ear are the same. When you move to either side, the number of impulses increases on that side and decreases on the other side. The number of impulses to the ears also controls the movement of the eyes.
The sensory receptors which carry information from the skin, muscles, and joints respond to stretching or pressuring of the surrounding tissues. These senses help our brain to determine where in space our body is.
Signals from the neck muscles determine where our head is turned. Signals from the ankles indicate if we are standing or where our body is heading towards.
- Vestibular System
The vestibular system is a part of the nervous system responsible for providing us with the spatial positioning of our head, body, and motion. There are two sets of organs in the inner ear; the semi-circular canal, which response to the rotational movements, and the utricle and saccule within the vestibule. These organs respond to changes in the position of the head with response to gravity.
What Happens When Balance Goes Wrong?
Imagine suddenly losing a sense of vision or hearing. Sounds terrifying, right? Similarly, the sudden loss of balance would make us feel dizzy. You may feel dizzy and frightened at the beginning stage. You may not be able to perform the daily tasks well. Later, with time you will be able to rely on other senses such as vision and hearing. (Lee, S., Walker, R.M., Kim, Y., and Lee, H., 2021)
How Can You Improve Balance?
Simply walking more often can benefit you by strengthening your lower body. The legs and spine are the foundation for a good posture. Having a good posture improves balance.
- Switch Heel To Toe Walk
You can do this exercise from your home or outdoors. It is an effective way to improve your balance.
- Standing On One Leg
You can do this exercise anywhere you can. Simple stand on one leg while your other leg is not touching the ground. For beginners, try to stand near a pole or a wall to use it as support.
Try to do this for as long as you can on one leg and then switch to the other leg.
- The Head Turn Walk
This is a little advanced version of walking exercises. You have to look everywhere from time to time and shift your focus.
Do this exercise by following these steps:
-Begin to walk
-Every other step, turn your head to the left and then to the right. Continue this for 10-15 repetitions
-Continue walking, now move your head up and down every other step. Continue this for 10-15 repetitions
-Continue walking, now tip your head towards your shoulder on the left, then right, every other step
Continue for a few repetitions.
You can stop or slow down if you feel dizzy.
- Walking backward
This can be pretty challenging. Be sure you are in a safe place where there is no traffic or bothersome for other people.
Walk backward in a straight line as much as possible.
Balance Your Walk till the End.
The human body consists of a complex set of sensory and motor systems. Coordination and communication between them are vital for us to have balance. We can treat imbalances by doing exercises and or by seeking professional medical help.