Proprioception is the ability to detect and determine the position of your body without using your eyes. This is very important for balance, as much of the coordination of your body and limbs is performed proprioceptively rather than using your eyes.
Your eyes do contribute to balance, perhaps somewhat excessively in many people. This can be demonstrated by performing balancing exercises such as single leg stand with the eyes closed. Typically, you will find it more difficult to perform the single leg stand with the eyes closed rather than with the eyes open. Some may find it difficult to stand with the eyes closed even when standing on both legs.
Good proprioception and balance are especially important in the elderly. Due to decreasing bone strength, falls are much more severe in the elderly than in the young. Hip fractures are particularly severe in the elderly. While the fracture itself may be treated well, disuse and strain on the body while healing exacerbate existing problems to the point where hip fractures are often fatal. One in three people over 50 who sustain a hip fracture die within 12 months of the fracture. As falls are frequently the event that produces a hip fracture in the elderly, good balance decreases the likelihood of a hip fracture by preventing falls.
Proprioception and balance can be improved by using and exercising these systems. Many exercises contribute to improved proprioception as movement and forces applied during exercise will activate proprioceptors and provide feedback. Improving balance is similar, but requires feedback and coordination of many different parts of the body. Balancing exercises improve both proprioception and balance. A good example of a balancing exercise is the single leg stand, in which you stand on one leg, and balance yourself for as long as you can. This can be used to both test your ability to balance and improve your ability to balance. When performing the single leg stand, it is important to perform the exercise at your level, and be near to an object you can use to balance yourself and avoid falling and injuring yourself should you lose your balance. A wall can be helpful for this. The single leg stand should first be performed with the eyes open. When the single leg stand can be performed well with the eyes open, it can be performed with the eyes closed. Softer surfaces such as a carpet or foam pad can be used to increase the difficulty level. If balance is difficult, for instance, with the eyes closed, you could try touching a stable surface, such as the wall. The extra proprioceptive feedback can make balancing easier.
Your Chiropractor will be able to safely advise and instruct you on proprioceptive and balancing exercises. Contact your Chiropractor if you are concerned about your balance, whether due to ongoing problems or an injury. Next time, we will discuss proprioceptive and balancing problems that can be produced with injuries and auto accidents.