Balancing Act – maintain your focus

Balance is a critical part of the human existence. Being Bi-pedal creatures requires that structures and systems involved with balance operate seamlessly.  Strong muscles aside, knowing where the body is in space and time must be a near autonomic response. Injury to the ankle can cause stability and overall balance become compromised. Age can also affect balance in a deleterious fashion. It is important to maintain the integrity of (one’s) balance. Specifically, when the task involves walking, running, jumping or combinations thereof, the structures, systems and muscles that are associated with ankle proprioception are critical for maintaining balance.

Proprioception is the body’s ability to control limbs without having to look at them. It is  the sensing, feeling and manipulating of arms, legs, hands, feet independent of directly sighting them. In humans, “proprioception plays an essential role in balance control, and ankle proprioception is arguably the most important aspect of [this] control.“1 Proprioceptive input from the ankle is relayed to the balance structures within the inner ear. The healthy body makes the appropriate response to inputs from the ankle and inner ear.

The inputs from the ankle are linked to the nervous system. Nerve impulses from the ankle combine with input from the inner ear. These inputs are relayed to the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the ankle. This communication effects the position of the body in the best, balanced state. The body becomes more stable with repetition of various movement patterns. Increasing movement complexity, as is encountered in athletic endeavors or difficult types of manual labor, will result in increased levels of balance, by default. The degree to which balance is regularly challenged in various activities will promote a corresponding level of ankle proprioception.

Ankle injuries are disruptive to proprioception. Injuries compromise the structures critical to ankle stability. The structures, tendons, ligaments are weakened due to the compromising of the matrix of which they are comprised. The inflammation process (swelling) is necessary but requires that ‘normal activity’ be curtailed. Tendons do not have the same amount of blood flow as muscles: ligaments have no blood flow. Correct healing occurs over time. After a proper amount of healing occurs, corrective activities are gradually introduced so that the structures are correctly ‘modeled’. This will enable the structures to support various levels and degrees of activity and balance.

Age also plays a factor in balance. The aging individual typically becomes less active. The structures and systems involved with balance receive decreasing amounts of stimulation. Thus, balance and stability diminish in the presence of decreased stimulation. Studies show that “single-limb stance instability is a major risk factor for falls in older adults. Thus, improvement of stance stability could play an important role in fall prevention.”2 Basic walking is a way to maintain balance and stability. Walking must be engaged on a regular basis so that the components involved with balance  and stability receive a minimum of adequate stimulation.

Ankle proprioception is critical to balance and stability in all human activity. When individuals are regularly active, balance is consistently stimulated. In the healthy individual, the systems and structures that maintain balance adapt and respond appropriately to various challenges. However, injury and old age can pose complications to balance. Measures can be taken help with recovery from injury and improving age related compromise in balance. Proprioception can be improved. Balance must be maintained.

Let the trainers at Ab-Sutra Wellness and Fitness in North Austin help you to establish  improvements in balance for your health and well-being.

1. The Role of Ankle Proprioception for Balance Control in relation to Sports Performance and Injury

2. Effects of High-Frequency Proprioceptive Training on Single Stance Stability in Older Adults: Implications for Fall

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