Can We Improve Balance?
By Erin Toy
Have you ever had a fall? Have you tripped over a dog toy lying on the ground, or perhaps you didn’t notice the depth of the curb outside your favorite restaurant? As we age, it is natural to notice some changes in our balance. Many of us find ourselves wondering if we are able to improve our balance. Balance is not only impacted by our muscles and flexibility it is also impacted by our vision and our body awareness. Poor balance can lead to falls and further injuries. You may not think an occasional trip or clumsy fall can impact you, but you want to make sure this doesn’t become a pattern. A fall to someone who is elderly or perhaps who has poor bone density can be very severe.
Did you know that your ankles are your first line of defense for losing your balance? What happens if you place all your weight on your heels?…go ahead try it…..you may notice you almost fall backwards. What if you place all your weight on your toes?….you will fall forwards. Your ability to shift your weight efficiently can be the difference between recovering from balance loss or having a fall. This concept is better known as your ankle strategy. I like to say your hips are your second line of defense. When you go and get something out of the refrigerator you naturally send your hips behind you, this is so you don’t go head first into the refrigerator! This is called your hip strategy. If your ankles and then your hips can’t respond to balance loss, we then utilize our stepping strategies. We step out to shift our weight and prevent a fall.
In order for us to be able to utilize the above ankle, hip and stepping strategies, we have to have good range of motion and strength in our core and our legs. Pilates is a great form of exercise to do just that! Pilates not only helps improve our balance righting reactions, but it helps develop a strong core which also improves our balance. Pilates also helps your body awareness in general which is very important to prevent a fall. A physical therapist can perform a variety of balance tests during an evaluation in order to find your specific limitations. Once you better understand your limitations, physical therapy can help focus on improving your balance.