From a very young age, we are continuously challenged everyday to maintain our balance. As a toddler beginning to walk, it is as simple as balancing our muscle strength to our body mass. As our body quickly grows bigger, do we have the muscle strength to maintain our balance? We do eventually develop that strength and successfully maintain our balance, usually with the help of our supportive caregivers.
As we develop into teenagers and young adults, our balance system becomes very well tuned. Our muscles and senses enable us to respond to uneven surfaces, unexpected collisions and even a misstep on the stairs – usually without serve injury.
Why do we fall?
The main reason for a fall is not that we experience these balance disturbances, but that we start to be less capable at responding to them. Think of the two main systems that our body uses to keep our balance – our muscles and our senses.
The importance of muscle strength and flexibility
As we move into adulthood, we lose muscle strength and flexibility usually because our life becomes more sedentary and less active. The muscles can be kept in tune by performing daily activity that raises your heart rate enough that you start to sweat after 10 minutes of a 40-50 minute activity, do this length and level of activity at least three times a week. If you do walk, but do not reach this level of activity, you can try to increase your walking speed or walk a more challenging route. Add in hills, carry weighted objects or walk along a moderate hiking trial – these will all help. By adding in these more challenging walking routes or intensifying the activities, we are practicing essential muscle patterns to prepare us to respond to balance disturbances. Some tell tale signs of reduced strength or flexibility include avoiding uneven surfaces or not moving as quickly when we are in unfamiliar areas.
Sensing balance challenges
The senses, such as vision and touch and the vestibular system (also known as the inner ear), are very important in balance. The sense that you are likely most aware of is your vision. If you are noticing that you have any blurring or trouble focusing please have your vision checked by a vision specialist. The inner ear (or vestibular system) usually affects our balance when it is not working properly. If you experience dizzy spells or it is difficult to focus when you move too quickly you should consult your doctor about that. The last sense is touch (which includes proprioception or limb/joint sense (determining where your limbs or joints are in space)) and this sensory function is one of the most undetected and neglected problems that result in balance problems. Imagine when your foot goes numb because of the way you have been sitting (for example, crossing your legs) and you try to stand on it, but your balance is very unsteady. This illustrates how important this sense is in keeping your balance. Some of the tell tale signs of reduced touch or proprioception is that you start to take shorter steps or change the number of steps to need to take before you are able to recover your balance (young people usually use a one-step response to recover their balance).
What to look for…
To summarize, your muscle strength/flexibility and your senses are critical for balance and avoiding falls. Some changes that should trigger best insoles for walking you to seek assistance include a reduced walking speed, avoiding uneven surfaces or you take multiple steps to recovery your balance in everyday situations.