Tai Chi – we should all be doing balance!

Well, not exactly Tai Chi but we should all be making a concerted effort to make sure our balance is as good as it can get.

Firstly, as we see all too often in the clinic, many injuries occur due to poor balance. From sprained ankles and knees on uneven surfaces, lower back injuries from trips and slips to broken hips from falls in the night. These are all preventable injuries if we just sorted out our balance.

In our amazing bodies, we have 3 main systems that work together to ensure we stay upright and safe. The first is our inner ear system which uses hairs in a fluid to notify our brain as to which way is up. If this is not functioning very well or is hindered by calcium crystals it can cause vertigo. Read more about vertigo here.

The second is our vision which is always comparing our current view to the perceived horizon or horizontal. If we are unable to see objects that give us a perception of the horizon. For example when you are sitting in a car or watching the landscape, or under the water. At these times your brain is unsure which way is up. This is especially true when we have impaired vision which ultimately hinders one of our 3 balance systems.

The third system is the one that we can do something about. It is known to the medical world as proprioception. Proprioception is the message from all of the ligaments and tendons in our joints sent back to the brain to tell it where each joint is positioned in space. This is the system that works the hardest under the water. Or when you are being thrown around by a roller coaster or during a sports game where you are using your whole body in all sorts of positions. Take standing on one leg, the proprioception in your ankle joint tells your brain to keep you upright.

Now imagine what effect an injury to one of your ligaments can have on your proprioception or balance system. Even swelling around a ligament is going to delay the message up to your brain. Without messages getting to your brain it cannot then relay a new message back down to activate the appropriate muscles to stop you falling and causing further injury.

So how can we improve our proprioception to prevent injuries? Here are a few easy exercises to do at home every day:

– Stand on 1 leg while you are brushing your teeth. Aim for 20 seconds on each leg. Even better, close your eyes!
– Walk heel-toe as if you are walking down a straight line every time you walk down your hallway. Even better, do it backward sometimes.
– Stand with one foot in front of the other and look L and R for one entire ad break on TV. Even better, do it with your eyes shut! See who has the best balance in your family.
– A fun game is to stand on 1 leg on a pillow and throw a ball to a friend who is doing the same. Even better, throw it above their head sometimes to really test their balance.

As we get older our brain finds it harder to process the information from all 3 systems quickly. So it becomes more important to work on our balance systems. Or at least turn on the light when you go to the toilet in the night.

If you have an old injury that is lingering or you keep doing the same injury over again every time, give us a call to book in. One of our physios can test out your proprioception and help you work out why it keeps happening. Or maybe consider taking up Tai Chi!