What is balance and what are the contributing factors that affect our balance?

Balance= Maintaining your center of mass/gravity over your base

When working properly, we are able to function over a variety of surfaces without losing our balance and falling to the ground.

Contributing factors that make up balance:

Sensory Input: What information are we getting by our brain from different sources (eyes, muscles and joints, and vestibular organs)

Eyes: Gives us visual feedback of what is in front of us 

Muscles and Joints: Tell us where our joints are in space (proprioception), I.e. did we step on a firm surface that will hold our weight or is it something we need to react to? Sensors in our joints and muscles tell us what pressure we are feeling and where.

Vestibular Organs: Our inner ear we have our utricle, saccule and three semicircular canals that help us detect gravity, linear movement and rotational movement. Fluid in the semicircular canals (endolymphatic fluid) moves when we move our head and the information from the sensors in these canals in our ears are sent back to the brain symmetrically.

All three of these sensory inputs work together to help keep our center of mass over our base.  All of this sensory information is sent to the brain stem which is then sorted and integrated in with the information provided by the cerebellum. Cerebellum in the center in our brain for coordination and also where we store some of the learned behavior or automatic behaviors. For example: We know that ice is slippery so we take more care walking over ice than a dry sidewalk. If one of these sensory inputs becomes disoriented, another can take over to help reorient your balance.

Motor Output: Information that is leaving the brain

Facilitation: Learned behavior that helps us to adjust, for example, practicing cartwheels until our brain can interpret the sensory information to where you no longer lose balance.

Balance is a complex and amazing combination of sensory and motor outputs. All of these things work together to maintain our center of mass over our base. When one input is compromised, another may take over. As we age, some of these inputs become compromised causing a decline in balance. The good news is, our brain is adaptable and can utilize other components of balance to help compromise. Practice makes perfect!

References/ Cited Sources:

the Vestibular Disorders Association, with contributions by Mary Ann Watson, MA, and F. Owen Black, MD, FACS, and Matthew Crowson, MD, https://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorder/human-balance-system Read This Article