There are three main systems; vision, somatosensory system and vestibular. The somatosensory system provides feedback from the skin, joints, tendons and muscles to tell you where you are in space. The vestibular system is a delicate part of the inner ear and it responds to changes and movements in your head position. These three systems need to work together if we are to maintain a good balance.
All of our body is involved in maintaining balance but from the perspective of the somatosensory system one of the most important structures needed to function well is your foot. The sole of your foot is incredibly sensitive, and for good reason. It is constantly sending information from into the central nervous system so that you instantly and subconsciously change your body’s alignment. The foot also promotes a stable pelvis in all weight-bearing activities by triggering a connection called the positive support response.
Why not try this exercise ….
- Sit on a stable chair with shoes and socks off.
- Feel the surface of the floor under your foot.
- Relax the toes.
- Without moving your knee or lifting your toes, slowly and smoothly move the pressure under the sole of your foot towards the outer border of the foot. This will lift your arch slightly.
- Then slowly move the pressure under the foot towards the inner border of the foot. This will flatten your arch slightly.
- This is called the listening foot as it is training the foot to pick up as much sensory information as possible. Try performing this on different surfaces, carpet, sand, bubble wrap etc. to make your foot listen.
Going back to the vestibular system and vision, the position of your head plays a vital role in getting accurate information to these systems for good balance. Excessive tension in the neck and shoulder muscles will pull your head out of position - a forward-head posture is a common symptom – and compromise your balance.
Try the following...
- Drop your head forward to look down at your feet and walk a few paces.
- Then look up and place your fingers in the groove behind your ears. Note, in between these two points and roughly level with your eyes is where your head sits on your spine.
- Let your hands rest by your side and the walk forward while allowing your head to balance on this spot. Notice the difference?
- Now walk while being aware of your feet ‘stroking’ the floor away as you move from the heel to ball of the foot.
Listening to your feet while maintaining a neck free of tension will improve both co-ordination and balance.
Check out our vestibular info blog and for more information on Balance Awareness Week, see http://vestibular.org/BAW