When we think of poor balance, we typically think of seniors using canes or walkers to get around, because they may fall. However, poor balance is actually a big contributor to sports injuries, common backache, neck pain, and headaches in younger people. In order to walk on two feet, adapt to bumpy surfaces such as grass, quickly run, turn, recover from a trip and more, we need a finely tuned balance system at all stages of life.
Whether you are an active runner or just your average Joe, your balance systems are used thousands of times a day. How well tuned they are, dictates whether your muscles have to work too hard to do ordinary tasks or whether you can adapt to the strains of running, jumping and more. Most of the common declines in balance we experience are not noticed until they are quite severe.
Common problems that occur because of poor balance systems:
- Back pain
- Neck pain and headaches
- Hip and knee pain
- Shoulder pain
- Sports injuries
- Vertigo and dizziness
- Trip and falls
Important balance systems you use everyday:
- Visual systems – Your eyes work with your vestibular system to keep your head level, track objects and determine distance / speed of objects. Just try to balance with your feet together and close your eyes to see how important your visual system is with balance. Your vestibuloccular reflex (VOR) is an important reflex for sports and everyday life. This naturally declines after your mid 20’s, and can cause dizziness, headaches or even vertigo when it is not functioning properly. Want to do better at sports? Improve your VOR!
- Vestibular system – This consists of special fluid filled canals in the middle ear that help your brain know which direction your head is tilted or moving. Problems with this system can cause dizziness, vertigo, poor balance and headaches.
- Your joints – There are nerve endings within the capsules surrounding all of your joints. These give you the senses of proprioception (sense of where your body is in space) and kinesthesia (sense of which direction and speed your joints are moving). These senses decline with inactivity, sedentary lifestyles and old or new injuries. The decline in these senses is a major factor for most joint pain, back pain and neck pain.
- Touch – You use the sensation of touch everyday, especially on your feet to give your brain feedback about the surface you are walking on, even through shoes. Common problems with poor circulation in the legs, diabetes and more effect the functioning of sensory nerves in your legs and feet, affecting your balance.
Use it or lose it
The wonderful thing about your balance system is that you can always improve it. Most problems are caused by lack of use of your balance system when you don’t live an active lifestyle. Whether you want to get rid of ordinary aches and pains, or are a high level athlete, focusing on proper balance and postural exercises can make a dramatic difference in your overall health and function.
The experts in balance
Physical therapists are the medical experts in evaluating and treating balance. We treat patients everyday for their balance. Whether you need help with back pain, neck pain, headaches, knee pain or dizziness, our physical therapists will address your balance systems. By testing what systems you are using, we can determine where there is a weakness and then provide comprehensive treatments that will fix the problem. To learn more about how we can help you balance and move freely without pain, call St. Francis Sports Medicine today.