Balance Part 3: Proprioception
The Proprioceptive (or Somatosensory) System is the bodies way of sensing where it is in space. This is done by having receptors in the skin, muscles, and joints to give your brain an impulse of spatial awareness.
Ever wonder how you can tell if your knee is bent with your eyes closed?
That’s sensory input from your body to your brain. This how we can sense our bodyweight shifting over from one side to the other, giving us a gauge on our center of gravity.
The Proprioceptive system can be compromised with poor movement competency and body awareness. This is why most associate being stronger as the reason their balance is off.
When you build strength, it is through some physical activity, exposing you to different movements. As you progress, motor learning occurs and movement competency increases. This gives the body a better representation of various positions and how to control them.
Certainly the strength-endurance piece can help by allowing us to hold positions for longer and make self-corrections when our position is thrown out of place, such as someone pushing you.
A good way to challenge and improve your sensory awareness would be a little series of advancing test I have created below
Creating body awareness on flat ground is a better use of your time than skipping the line to any of the uneven surface garbage balance tools out there.
Personally I think they are a waste of time as it does not allow you to adequately gain competency in movement and transfer of forces.
How often are you ever on an uneven surface that mimics those of a Bosu Ball or Airex Pad?
Also, if you have trouble balancing on flat ground, why would you think making the surface harder is going to help you when you never interact with it outside of the 10s you stand on it?
A better way is to use as little constraints as needed and progressively lessen them in a stance to gain the body’s awareness in space. You can also utilize your visual system to help you by focusing in on an object in the distance to help orient you further.
Furthermore, having two systems compromised can surely cause balance to be very “off”. If you review our past blogs on vestibular and visual balance, HERE and HERE, an individual may have a mild case of vertigo or hearing loss, along with worsening vision. This places greater strain on our proprioceptive system to work on keeping us upright, which can give the illusion of being weak.
Hopefully you will throw out those balance pads and practice your single-leg stances on some flat ground.
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Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has worked with many high-level athletes and military personnel, but his true passion is to help active adults maintain their lifestyle by providing information and potential solutions to their aches and pains so they can continue with the activities they love.