When most of us think of balance, and really poor balance, we may think of old age, after a concussion, migraines, or pain. This can very well be true but we will see over the next couple of weeks that balance issues can be in “healthy” individuals as well. Why do we put parentheses on the word healthy? This is for a number of reasons and these are the same reasons that we will be expounding on. One being our brains are very good at compensating. Balance involves multiple aspects of the brain and body so we may seem healthy, but we may not be. One of the last reasons would be that we may not notice any balance issues until they are severe or they lead to other issues.
Balance, like a lot of aspects of the brain, is something that we take for granted just about every day. When it is working properly we are able to go about our day and not have any issues with it. However, when any of the three aspects we just mentioned occur we may notice balance issues more or they may even cause our quality of life to go down. It should be mentioned now that someone with balance issues may not fall a lot or really notice much of a difference throughout the day, but there may be times throughout the day that they feel unstable. This can be seen in situations such as:
– Going on elevators/escalators
– Riding in a car
– Running into things/always being injured
– Walking through the grocery aisle at the supermarket
– Certain head movements are worse than others
– Feel constantly off balance at night/dusk time
These scenarios are examples of when we may not completely lose our balance or fall but our balance systems aren’t working correctly.
Again, we will be going over this in more detail but we can think of balance being made up of 3 separate but communicating systems. These systems are oculomotor, vestibular, and proprioception. These are also known as eyes, head, and body and we will be referring to them as such. It is a combination of these systems throughout the day that allows us to move properly, respond to and interact with our world, and if we do have a fall or slip to be able to have proper reflexes to catch ourselves. Below we will briefly describe the actions of these systems so we have an outline of them and we have a better understanding going into the next weeks.
Oculomotor System (Eyes):
We rely heavily on our eyes to get from point A to point B, look at different objects, and yes to have proper balance. When the eyes aren’t working correctly we can get different eye problems from strabismus’s, blurry vision, diplopia (double vision), and a feeling of off balance. There are 2 basic eye movements that we are doing 1000’s of times throughout the day, these are known as pursuits and saccades (slow and fast eye movements). Think of when you read a book, left to right, and how you go slowly to the end of the line and quickly to the next line. It is the combination of these slow and quick movements that allow us to function throughout the day.
Vestibular System (Head/Neck):
As you have probably imagined if we have certain eye movements it would make sense that head and neck would be apart of that as well. A quick example of this would be: look at an object in front of you. Now move your head side to side and up and down, start off slow and get faster and faster. Notice that even though your head is moving your eyes are staying on target the whole time, or at least your eyes should be. The eyes and head/neck have to be on the same page when we want to do a certain activity, and when they aren’t many issues can arise from that. Not only are we doing many eye movements throughout the day but we are also engaging our trunk muscles as well (trunk being spine basically). So if eye movements and/or head/neck movements aren’t working appropriately trunk muscles cant responds correctly and can cause many issues such as tightness, pain, or some form of instability. (A lot more on this later I promise)!
The last one and most people don’t really think about is whole-body movement(s). Basically anytime we move our muscles they send signals to the brain and tell the brain where the body is in space. This is very important for balance because without this we would constantly be bumping into things, reaching for an object and missing, or keep injuring the same area over and over. This may seem familiar because either you or someone you know keeps bumping into things or jamming a finger and we just mark it up to being ditzy or clumsy. We will see more examples and explore this more. These individual incidences aren’t the end of the world but like we have said balance is a culmination of different pathways in the body and when they start breaking down it can lead to progressively worse and worse cases.
POST 2: BALANCE AND EYES (BELOW)
Post 3: Head and Balance: The Vestibular System (BELOW)